“History and Description of High Albania or Ghegeria” – Louis Hyacinthe Hecquard, Paris, 1858
One of the most prominent Franciscans of the second half of the 19th century is the brother Leonardo De Martino OFM, the prominent poet of Italian-Albanian poetry, the Albanian translator of liturgical literature and famous Italian authors, a determined fighter for the independence of Albania. .
Leonardo De Martino was born in 1830 into a simple Arberian family in Puglia, Greece. He first entered the church of Sant Angelo and after being ordained a priest, in 1865 he was sent as a missionary to Albania, where he served for about four decades in the diocese of Sapa.
The years of service in our country, as Fra De Martino himself says, influenced the revival of the feelings of patriotism, for the country of his origin. In addition to missionary activities, he contributed worthily to the education and political renewal of the Albanian nation, speaking openly for the liberation from 5 centuries of Ottoman slavery and the declaration of independence of our country.
Undoubtedly Leonardo De martino, this prominent Arberian , is one of the dignified representatives of the constellation of the Albanian renaissance of the XIX century.
Brother Leonardo de Martino OFM, spent most of his missionary activity in Zadrime and Lezha, but often made apostolic trips to the mountains of Shkodra, Tropoja, Puka, Has, Mirdita, etc. For a period of time he served as secretary of Prenk Bib Doda, the captain of Mirdita, who was very active in patriotic activities for the declaration of independence of Albania. During your stay in Orosh, you were also the teacher of the son and other children of the captain’s family.
It is important to take notice of all the footnotes I personally added to the text. Having studied the chapter thoroughly, I can confidently say that there are quite a few misrepresentations in the description of the genealogy and two facts which are unequivocally incorrect (see footnotes 3 and 9).
It is extremely important to note the correct names as they represent the actual lineage of the “Dera e Gjomarkut” therefore, whenever there is a misplaced name it misrepresent the actual heirs.
Mirdite – Puka and Halia – Moutains of Alessio
The tribe of the Mirditi is also called principality because the name of Prenk (Peter) was carried by almost all their chiefs, which, confused with a title, was translated to Prince; it is bound on the west by Zadrima, on the east by the Dibra mountains, on the north by those of Dukagjin and on the south by Matia. It is enclosed by inaccessible mountains where one can only enter via three narrow defiles. Its position is excessively strong and all the more important since it commands the routes of Prizren and Tirana; the only ones by which the Porte, when it is at war with Montenegro, can send supplies or relief to upper Albania.
Mirdite is divided into five Bajraks, namely: Orosh, Fandi, Spac, Kushenine and Dibra.
The Bajrak of Orosh, also called Orocher by the writers who took care of High Albania, although I have never heard it given this name, comprises seven villages or rather seven hamlets, the most important of which is Orosh; the residence of the Kapidan. The chief of the Mirditi has a large Sarajet that he built and lives in, in the style of the Turkish houses of Scutari, which only has a long table, an armchair and some wooden benches as furniture. The part reserved for the women is, they say, a little more comfortable, that is to say that it has rugs and a few sofas. In front of the palace are two small iron cannons, without a lookout, which are, however, fired on holidays or during the arrival and departure of the Prince or of a Christian Consul.
Orosh has recently repaired the church located outside the village, in which there is an excessively old Greek cross. Near there is the poor dwelling of the Abbey of Mirdite. As for the village itself, its houses surrounding the Kapidan’s dwelling are thrown here and there at the bottom of a gorge and on the slope of the mountain which closes it, a gorge formed by two mountains so high that, on the longest days of the year, the sun’s rays only penetrate Orosh for three hours.
The other villages of this Bajrak are: Ladji, Mastrikor, Sais, Simri, Preen and Lidjin, whose population, including Orosh, is made up of one hundred and twenty families and has about fifteen hundred inhabitants.
The Bajrak of Orosh, although the fewest in number, has great authority over the others and its standard takes precedence over them; it is, moreover, the most turbulent and most plundering population of these mountains.
The villages of Fan, Konaj, Xhuxhe, Segnini, Domdjion, Blinak, with one hundred and fifty families and about four thousand two hundred inhabitants, form the district of Fan, which took its name from the river Fan or Fandi, which crosses this district. The land and pastures are no longer sufficient for its population, which increased each year. Three hundred families of this Bajrak left it in 1840 to settle in the mountains of Gatchia, which dominate the town of Jakova (district of Prizren). After first taking the land from the Turks, the Fanis eventually seized it and today form a colony of more than four thousand souls living by cultivating the land and raising cattle. Still viewing themselves as part of the Mirditi, they have kept the name of the Bajark from which they come, obey the Kapidan, to whom they give a man per house in time of war and pay no tribute to the Porte.
The third Bajrak, called Spac banner, from the name of its main village, residence of a priest, is made up of the hamlets of Spac, Goyani, Mesouli, Bisak and Qafemalit (a village located on the high mountain of the same name that must be crossed to go from Scutari to Prizren and the residence of the priest of this district), Lumibarz, Gonisitsh, Menela. They are inhabited by five hundred and seventy families having together a population of about six thousand souls. This Bajrak, partly enclosed in the Dukagjin district, is cut-off by the Prizren road which the Mirditi intercept whenever they want to register a complaint to the Ottoman authorities. In this case, they arrest the travelers and the Turkish caravans belonging to the city against which they have grievances and detain them until justice has been done to them, taking care however never to detain the Catholics or their merchandise.
In 1854, the Pasha of Prizren authorizes the Turks of Jakova to refuse to the Fani (these Mirditi emigres sort of speak) the grains which they lacked. The Bajrak of Spac stopped all the caravans from Jakova, with the wheat sent by the government to Scutari’s troops, then he gathers his forces to march on Jakova. Finding myself at the time on a journey to Prizren, I ascertained from their leader that the Mirditi would not begin hostilities for three days and that they would respect the wheat and the merchandise they had seized, intending them to make known to the Pasha the true situation of Fan. Arrived at Prizren, I obtained the revocation of the authorization given to the Turks of Jakova to refuse grain to the Fani, and I made a truce between these Moslems and these Catholics.
The Bajrak of Kushenine, formed by the villages of Kushenine, Djedjani, Rasi, Blinisht (residence of the priest), Poushtiesi and Simoni, has a population of three thousand six hundred inhabitants, divided into three hundred families.
Finally the Bajrak of Dibra, commanding the gorge of Kasnija and Treshijani, which gives access to the plain of Zadrima, occupies the mountains which border this plain. Its villages are: Dibri, Kashinari, Ougrei, Rasi, Gagui and Kasnija, (residence of an indigenous priest and of the Bajraktar) village near which are the sources of the small river of Kashnijeti, which flows into the Drin below Dagno, and that you have to cross ten times when going from Scutari to Orosh. Almost dry during the summer, it becomes so deep and rapid during heavy rains that it is impossible to cross it and the Mirditi’s communications with the bazaars can no longer take place, except by crossing the mountains. This Bajrak, the largest of Mirdite, has five hundred and ninety-five families and a population of over six thousand inhabitants.
The territory of Mirdite, excessively mountainous, has some beautiful valleys, but since its population has increased, its products are no longer in line with the number of its inhabitants who, each year, have to obtain cereals from outside. Like those of Dukagjin, its mountains are covered with deep forests; at the top of the highest are wood of hundred-year-old fir trees suitable for making magnificent mature. They have never been exploited; the lack of roads makes it, moreover, impossible today. The inhabitants take advantage of the trees by cutting them in small pieces that they will sell to the neighboring bazaars. Poor households, peasants and mountain dwellers, use it to light their homes. For this purpose, they burn it on an iron plate fixed at the end of a stake driven into the ground, taking place of a torch.
These mountains also produce, in fairly large quantities, a woodstain called Fustel or Scodano that traders gather at Alessio and then ship to Marseilles or Rouen. The pastures are plentiful enough that the Mirditi never need to send their herds to the plain, which has gone a long way in keeping them independent.
The Mirditi all profess the Catholic religion, and no Muslims are permitted to settle in their mountains where they freely exercise their worship. There is no example of abjuration among the Mirditi. Anyone who tempted him would certainly be put to death if he did not leave Albania. The Mirditi, who know of our religion only the external practices, who do not have an idea of its morals and never wanted to understand the forgiveness of the insults, are excessively fanatic. Above all, they insist on the strict observation of all young people and all abstainers, regarding those who do not as infidels. An insult to religion has never gone unpunished; the Muslims of the surroundings learned it at the expense of their mosques which were defiled every time a Moslem had either drawn on a cross, or destroyed a catholic building. When the Pasha recently opposed the construction of the seminary and caused what was already built to be demolished, the Mirditi resolved to descend into the plain and to destroy a mosque in revenge for the outrage done to Catholicism. Passing, at that time, in their mountains, to get to Scutari, I came upon the same event. I found three hundred Mirditi gathered at Djon Colas and ready to march to Puka in order to destroy the mosque. I had great difficulty in dissuading them, and I only succeeded in assuring them that they would cause great danger to their co-religionists established in the towns of the plain.
The Mirditi are part of the diocese of Alessio, with the exception of the villages of Menela and Vidjiou, which are included in the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Zadrima. Whenever the Mirditi go to war, they are accompanied by a native chaplain. The one who in 1854 walked with them during the Danube campaign was distinguished by his courage and selflessness and was decorated with the Medjidie1.
Orosh has for spiritual leader an Abbot, formerly independent and bearing the title of Abbot of Mirdite. He is now subject to the Bishop of Alessio. Formerly the Abbot of Mirdite was an authority and played a role in the country by the undisputed right to interfere in temporal affairs and to direct the policy of the chiefs; it is no longer so today and he has little influence on its parishioners. These being poor, the chiefs are not very generous. The unfortunate Abbot, never receiving anything from the aid sent to Albania by the association for the Propagation of the Faith of Lyons, and the small pay formerly attached to his title no longer being paid to him, I saw without complaint and in a state bordering on poverty.
The Mirditi, although Latins, commune under both species, and in some of their churches one finds Greek crosses and remains of a Byzantine painting; finally, they kept the old calendar for a long time. Where does this exception come from in the midst of a country which, when the whole of the East embraced schism, remained faithful to Rome? Was this population formed by an emigration of schismatics, retaining its religion in the midst of those then known as the Latins, and did it not recognize the authority of the Pope until, the schismatic priests having fled, the Catholic missionaries came to support them in the faith? There is an interesting question to study: unfortunately there is a lack of written documents, the traditions are mostly false, and it would be necessary to stay a long time in the mountain in order to look for the traces that must have been left there by the first inhabitants.
The Mirditi recognize a chief to whom they give the title of Kapidan; Europeans call him Prince. His functions are hereditary, but the powers of the chief are very limited and his authority is in keeping with the influence he has been able to take over the population.
Each district has its standard Bajrak (name given to mountain districts), its Bajraktar, who commands it in war, and its elders, who, united under the chairmanship of the Kapidan, administer justice and conduct business. When a Mirditor commits a crime involving the death penalty, he is condemned by the elders and the judgment is executed by the Bajrak to which he belongs. In this case, the Kapidan confiscates the property of the condemned and shares half with the elders. However, neither the Prince nor the elders can punish homicide; this right is reserved for the family of the victim, and if this family kills the murderer, no punishment can be adminstered.
Theft and slander are punished by the confiscation of part of the property of the culprit; adultery, by the death of the woman, who is stoned or rather buried under a heap of stones; as for her accomplice, the insulting husband has the right to kill him wherever he meets him. Moreover, these cases are very rare, because the point of honor is pushed to excess in the mountains of Mirdite. Women and young girls are excessively free there, everywhere they travel alone and everywhere they are respected; there, as in all the mountains of upper Albania, the best and safest escort is a woman.
It is a shame for a young girl to speak to a young man; if they are found together, however innocent they may be, the young girl’s reputation is lost and she can no longer find a marriage. When such a thing happens, the young girl seldom survives what she regards as a disgrace. Don Zarichi, Abbot of Mirdite, told me that three years ago a man who joked in front of several people about the sister of a friend of his, that he had seen her chatting with a young man whom he pointed out, that this child who was not even fifteen years old, waited for Easter, the day when the whole tribe gathered, then, leaving the church where she had just received Communion, grabbed a pistol and, taking God as witness to her innocence, committed suicide. Two days later, the slanderer fell under the blows of her brother.
The political organization of Mirdite is a kind of aristocratic republic: thus, the Kapidan cannot take any decision without the consent of the veillards2 and the Bajarktars gathered in assemblies, and the functions of these are hereditary like those of the chief of the tribe. On solemn occasions, all the people are called to deliberate.
Justice is served according to the laws of Lek Dukagjin (Kanun of Lek Dukagjini), preserved by tradition. These same laws govern all the mountains, and when I deal with their organization, I will report them in full. The other tribes made some modifications to it, while among the Mirditi, who regard the Dukagjini as their ancestors, the tradition has never been altered. Although the form is not regular, it is rare that an injustice is committed, and the Mirditi submit to the arrests of their elders; arrests without appeal when they have been approved by the Kapidan or rendered in his presence.
According to an ancient custom that has been preserved to this day, the heads of the Mirditi should only marry Turks who were kidnapped from their parents and baptized in the mountains. All the women existing in Orosh today have been delighted in this way; they themselves say it and boast of it. If they did not embrace the Christian religion with faith and enthusiasm, they at least adopted it without repugnance and scrupulously fulfill its external practices. Devoted to their husbands, proud of their reputation, jealous of their honor, they have, whenever the opportunity arises, deploy great energy, either to defend them or to avenge them. Following this example, the current Kapidan of Mirdite, Biba, on the death of his first wife, a Christian of Scutari, kidnapped the daughter of a bey of Kruja whom he married after having baptized her3.
As for military service, each house is required to provide a man who is only required to serve for six months a year under the flag. After this time elapses, he must be sent back to the mountain, except to be called again the following year. In war, the Mirdite standard takes precedence over all the others, and they occupy the post of honor. All other highlanders in Upper Albania serve for free, receiving only bread and cheese for the duration of the campaign. The Mirditi alone have, since the wars of Epirus, the ration of the regular soldiers and a pay fixed at sixty piastres (12 francs) per month.
If, in general, the Albanians rush with impetuosity on the enemy, they lack perseverance. The slightest resistance discourages them, and they do not know how to withdraw without disbanding; the Mirditi alone, possessing a sort of military organization, are renowned for their coolness in retreat, and they have never fled shamefully. They are, moreover, the greatest looters in the world. They are considered to be Turkey’s best soldiers in Europe and once went to serve overseas. The Neapolitan general Lecha is, it is said, a Mirditor of the family of Kapidans.
What is the origin of the Mirditi? Are they indigenous? Did they remain in these mountains following one of these terrible invasions from the East, as their name seems to indicate, which in Persian means brave? On the contrary, did they take refuge in these mountains following the occupation of Albania by the Turks? These are all questions that I have often asked myself without being able to resolve them. Pouqueville and M. de Hahan made the first two assumptions of learned theories: I could not however adopt them, or rather I cannot admit that the Mirditi existed under this name before the dissolution of the Eastern Empire, and, I go further, before the occupation of Albania by the Turks. If one agrees with these authors this ancient origin, how is it that one does not find this name of the Mirditi quoted by any of the contemporary writers? Thus, neither Barletius, making in his history of Scanderbeg an enumeration of the different Albanian populations who joined with Scanderbeg in pushing back the Turks; neither Franciscus Blancus, writing in 1501; nor Bolizza who, in 1612, sent to the republic of Venice a report on upper Albania, mention the Mirditi. Were they Greeks then, as one might believe from some of their customs, and not want to side with the Latins, or rather were they not then confused with Dukagjini, which is so often the question?
Be that as it may, the tradition preserved among these mountain people descends the family of their chiefs from the Princes of Dukagjini who, after the death of Scanderbeg, seeing their powerless efforts, had to leave the plain to preserve their freedom, their religion and their independence, and took refuge in the mountains with those of George Kastrioti’s companions, who had not wanted to abandon Albania to follow his son to the kingdom of Naples. All the efforts of the Turks to subdue them were shattered before these mountains, into which they could only penetrate by defiles guarded by men and their families determined to die in them rather than surrender. Finally, desperate to obtain their submission by force, the Turks proposed to them a capitulation which was accepted, a capitulation recognizing their leader and abandoning all rights of interference in their internal administration; assuring them the free exercise of their worship and exemption from all kinds of tax, either for the lands which they own in the mountain or for those which they could acquire in the plain of Zadrima, on the condition to provide, in time of war, a contingent equal to one man per family to serve under the orders of their chief or of a member of his family.
According to the Mirditi these privileges and capitulations date from the reign of Sultan Amurat, who ratified them. They cite the battle of Kosovo as the precise time of the recognition of their rights by the Sultan. According to them, Sultan Amurat, to reward their leader for the courage he displayed in this affair, gave them a signed tin plate recognizing the privileges they still enjoy. According to them, it is also from this time that they would have taken the name of Mirdite.
According to some, the Sultan, praising their courage, would have given them this epithet which would have remained with them; according to the others, their leader, speaking to the Sultan on the morning of the battle would have said to him: “Mir di (it is a good day)”, then, when he was victorious, he designated the troop of Christians who had so powerfully contributed to the success by the words he heard in the morning and remembered.
The Mirditi are, it seems to me, an anachronism. Indeed, according to their tradition, they would descend from the Princes of Dukagjini and the companions of Skanderbeg: however, if this is so, they could not accompany the Sultan to the battle of Kosovo, because Albania, at that time, was still independent.
If George Kastrioti later recognized the authority of the Sultan and gave him his sons as hostage, George freed him from the yoke, and it was only after his death and under the reign of Mahomet II that Ghegaria was subjected. According to Kapidan Biba, who has assured me several times, without ever having shown it to me, there is, at Orosh, a signed engraving on a bronze plaque, given, he told me, by a Sultan to one of the members of his family for the value he displayed in a battle fought against the Austrians under the reign of Marie-Therese. This signed engraving grants him and his descendants an annual annuity of one hundred loads of corn to be taken from the import paid to the state by the district of Zadrima. This one hundred loads were still paid to him two years ago and were thus distributed: seventy to the Kapidan and thirty to the elders of the five Bajraks. By admitting the existence of this item, it would be possible that there was confusion and that this signed promise was carried over to the battle of Kosovo, the memory of which has remained with all populations having relations with the Slavs, as we have seen through the tradition of the Clementi.
If the Mirditi claim to be descended from the sons of Lek Dukagjini, whose laws bear the name, their tradition has retained only the memory of a chief existing about one hundred and fifty years ago. From that moment, she reports a succession of facts and an uninterrupted genealogy, without however giving any precise date.
According to this tradition, it was Kapidan Gjon Marku who bequeathed his name to his descendants. The mountaineers never call the people of his family other than “Dera e Gjon Markut” (race of Gjon Marku). This Marku was a bold and favorable leader. He gained himself a great reputation in the battles he supported against the Turks, that all the petty tyrants, who then shared Albania among themselves, sought his alliance, which they paid at a high price. For this job, he gained honors and profits. It was under this leader that Albania began to know the name Orosh, village where he had established his residence. Without enumerating the exploits of this warrior, the songs report that he fought with success in all parts of Albania, sometimes in the service of the Pashas of Scutari, sometimes to that of the governors of Ipek, Prizren, Jakova, etc. One of them relates that, sent with his troops in the interior of Roumelia, he destroyed the Ayans of the districts surrounding Adrianople.
Gjon Marku died under the walls of Peqin, a small town in the Tirana district that he had just taken by assault. The Mirditi do not know where the mortal remains of their hero lie.
Gjon Marku had three male children: one of them died without heirs; the second son, from which descends the branch of Prenk Mark Kola, whose grandfather was beheaded on the orders of Mahomoud Pasha, governor and lord of Scutari, who had drawn him close to him.
Gjon Marku’s eldest son, named Prenk Leshi4, followed in his father’s footsteps, waged war in several places and was killed in battle. He left three sons: Prenk Llesh, Dod Lleshi and Llesh i Zi. Prenk Lleshi, being the eldest, became the leader of the Mirditi and allied himself with Mahomoud-Pasha, of Scutari, whom he accompanied in the expedition against Montenegro, where this Pasha was killed. After his death, Prenk Lleshi was in debt to all the Pashas of Albania to whom he gave troops, commanded by his brothers or his children, troops considered, from then on, as the best and most faithful.
After the submission of Lower Albania by Ali Pasha Tepelene, Prenk Lleshi put himself at the service of this despot, to whom he sent his eldest son Doda with a chosen body of Mirditi, which he later reinforced with fifty men commanded by his brother Lleshi i Zi. As a reward for these services, Ali Pasha showered Prenk Lleshi and his family with honors and riches, and always allowed the Mirditi to freely practice their religion.
The fame of Prenk Lleshi, the success of his army, attracted to him the intrepid mountain dwellers of Dibra and Matia who, joined to the Mirditi, fought under the orders of members of his family throughout Roumelie, lending their support to the independent Beys rich enough to pay them.
On the death of Ibrahim Pasha of Scutari, Mustafa Pasha, having killed the children of his uncle, seized power. Pushed by Ali Pasha Tepelena, and under the pretext of having sworn to Ibrahim Pasha to recognize his children as lords of Scutari, Prenk Lleshi declared himself against the usurper. Beginning the hostilities immediately, he invaded Zadrima, destroying all the villages inhabited by the Muslims and beat several times the Pasha troops who had come to oppose him. For seven years Prenk Lleshi continued his forays into Zadrima, devastating all that belonged to the Turks, without ever being beaten and always succeeding in regaining the mountains without suffering losses, when he was dealing with forces far superior. Tired of war and fearing that this spirit of revolt does not reach all the Christian mountains, Mustafa Pasha accepts peace. However, Prenk Lleshi, fearing the bad faith of the Pasha, never wanted to see him, and, despite all the invitations and all the promises made by the Turkish, he never consented to set foot in Scutari, where he had sent his son Doda as hostage.
Prenk Lleshi died a few years later from a wound received in a battle against the Turks near Sappa; Prenk Doda5, his son, grandfather of the current Kapidan, inherited his power.
This Kapidan, whose bravery is praised, was the most moderate, the most human and the most intelligent of the chiefs of the Mirditi. After having created war under the orders of the Pasha of Janina, he accompanies Mustafa Pasha in Moree during the insurrection of Greece. It is, they say, in his tent that the famous Marko Botzari was killed. On the return from this campaign, Dibra, having revolted against the authority of Mustafa, was occupied by the chiefs of Mirdite who, for thirteen months, reigned there in absolute power. Dod Prenk, poisoned by a Turkish woman from Scutari, died in Kotor where he had gone in the hope of finding a cure. His tomb, which is unmarked, still exists in the Catholic cemetery of this city.
After the death of Dod, and due to his brother Nikoll ‘s young age, the command of Mirdite was entrusted to Llesh i Zi (Dod’s uncle), famous in Albania by a bravery too often tarnished by acts of cruelty. After having fought in Epir and Greece under the orders of his nephew, he took the city of Tirana by assault. In this fight, nine Beys fell under his blows. He remains loyal to Mustafa when he revolted against the sultan, Llesh i Zi, who had not wanted to abandon him and was locked up with him in the fortress of Scutari during his capitulation, was exiled to Janina by order of the sadriazem6 , Mehemet Reschid Pasha.
It is at this time that the vendetta dates back to this family, which until then was so united and so powerful. The first crimes were said to have taken place at the instigation of the Turkish authorities. Following the exile of his uncle Lleshi i Zi, Nikoll, son of Prenk Llesh, was called to command the Mirditi. According to the elders who knew him, he was a courageous, fair and moderate young man in whom the Mirditi placed their hopes. Quoted by the bravery which he showed in the various engagements of the Turks against the Montenegrins, he acquired the esteem and the friendship of the grand-vizier Reschid Pasha. He took him with him when he left Scutari to go fight in Anatolia and entrusts to him the command of part of the vanguard of the Turkish army at the battle of Konya.
However, Llesh i Zi’s sons were jealous of the fame that Nikoll had just acquired. They hoped, in defiance of the laws, to seize power upon his death. Pushed, it is said, by their father, to whom the Pasha of Scutari had promised the end of his exile and counting on the support of the Turks, the sons of Llesh i Zi several times sought a quarrel with Nikoll and ambushed him. He, warned of the dangers he was running, knew how to play the traps of his cousins and forced them for some time to obey him. Finally, following new intrigues which came to the knowledge of the Kapidan, the sons of Lleshi i Zi were, by his orders, all three killed on the same day.
However, Hafiz Pasha foresaw that Llesh i Zi would not give up his vengeance and he harbored the hope of subjugating the Mirditi following the war which, according to him, was to break out at the death of Nikoll, a war in which he expected that, on one side or the other, his intervention would be called for. As a result he persuaded Zevhala Mehemet Pasha, who had come to abet Scutari’s revolt against the governor, to demand the end of Llesh i Zi’s exile. This grace granted, Alexander the Black7 reappeared in the mountains.
Surrounded, on his arrival, by the bishops and priests, he was forced to promise forgiveness for the death of his sons, and, as a sign of reconciliation, he consented to embrace his nephew Nikoll before them. If his mouth spoke words of peace, his heart retained the resolution to take revenge. Forgetting that a Mirditor never lets the spilled blood go unpunished, Nikoll approached his uncle and consented to receive him in his house. Llesh i Zi, by his behavior towards him, knew how to inspire him with such confidence that he allowed him to share his meals. So convinced that whoever had eaten the bread and salt in his house could no longer attempt his life, Nikoll no longer took any precautions: he was soon to be a victim of his trust. One day Lleshi i Zi killed his nephew from behind while he was washing his hands before sitting down at the table.
This crime was fully avenged. A year has not yet elapsed since Nikoll’s death when Llesh i Zi was in turn murdered during the night by Nikoll’s wife. As there was no man left from Llesh i Zi’s family in a position to avenge his death, his wife undertook it and the following year, Gjok Dod, son of Prenk Doda8 fell under her blows.
9While she paid assassins kill the son of Gjon Marku and his child, brother of Kapidan Mark, who did not escape, as well as Kapidan Bib Doda, his fate was saved thanks to the loyalty of the servants to his father, who took him away from the house, hid in a chest.
Of the branch of Prenk Lesh, there remains today only Prenk Bib 10, current Kapidan of the Mirditi; from Dod Leshi, Kapidan Marko and his brother, and from Leshi i Zi his grandson, Kapidan Gjon Marku, terror of the country and who retained the cruelty of his grandfather. All today recognize Bib Doda for their leader; the number of dead being equal on each side, the forgetfulness of the past has been sworn, and they all live together in Orosh, the house where the acts of this drama took place. There also remain the wives of Nikoll and Leshi i Zi whom I have seen on the occasion of several times, and whose faces paint well the energy they have shown.
Following these murders, Bib Doda, although young, took command of the Mirditi. He had retired for some time to Scutari; the Pasha wanted to assign to him a Turkish boulouk-bachi who was to share the authority and walk with him at the head of the army. Bib Doda pretended to consent to it, and, after having warned the people, set out for Orosh with a certain Youssouf Abdallah Bey, appointed to the new job, although he was accused of having formerly impaled three Christians. At this news the Mirditi rose en masse, took up arms and marched towards the Cresta well, a gorge through which one enters the Mirdite mountains. When the new boulouk-bachi presented himself there, they informed the Kapidan that they would not receive him with Youssouf Bey and that they would kill the latter if he took one more step. Frightened, Youssuf Bey fled and returned to Scutari with the Zapties accompanying him. Following this affair the Mirditi held a council in which it was decided that their Kapidan, had been sufficient until then to govern the country, but they would never receive a boulouk-bachi. Since then no Turkish employee, with the exception of a commissioner of the Porte who came in the company of the Consuls of France and England, has set foot near them.
In 1844, during the submission of Lower Albania, Bib Doda, was called by the seraskier11 Reschid Pasha, as the Mirditi that the general had chosen for his guard on the campaigns of Epirus where he received, in reward for the courage which he displayed, the decoration of Nicham-Iftikhar12, replaced later by that of Medjidie13. At the same time, the Holy Father, at the request of the Bishop of Alessio, granted him the decoration of the Order of Saint Gregory.
Later, Omer Pasha called him to go and fight the Montenegrins, and recognizes in this general the courage and coolness he displayed covering the retreat of part of the Turkish army, retreat during which he repelled the Montenegrins and preserved the banner of Clementi from complete destruction. Finally, during the last war where he fought in the campaigns of the Danube, the Mirditi were distinguished in several engagements. There, while Kapidan Biba was gone to recruit new soldiers, General Omer Pasha, disregarding the claims of the Mirditi who, according to their capitulation must be replaced every six months, incorporated within them three hundred Nizam and after disarming them sent the disabled back to their homes.
This impoiltic resolution, taken vis-à-vis a population hitherto loyal to the Turks, arriving at the time of the movement of Greece, almost had unfortunate consequences. Humiliated at having been disarmed, overexcited by the painting of the evils suffered by their compatriots that were caused by the deserters arriving every day, the Mirditi accused their Kapidan of being the cause of this misfortune and blocked him in his house, during which they intercepted the roads and invaded the district of Zadrima, which they treated as a conquered country.
In the presence of these disturbances, it was resolved with the Pasha that the Commissary of the Porte, the Consuls of France and England and the Bishop of Alessio would go to Orosh and seek to have a Besa14 concluded between the Mirditi and their chief. The Austrian Vice-Consul had not wanted to leave Scutari.
After a tiring journey, this commission arrives at Orosh where all the chiefs met on January 12, 1855. The Mirditi reproached the Kapidan for having violated the laws of the country and for having used his compatriots to satisfy his personal ambition; to have consented to the incorporation of their brothers into the Nizam; finally, they asked him again for their weapons and their six-month pay which he had, they said, received. They no longer wanted, they added, to recognize him as their leader until they were satisfied.
After a long discussion, the Consuls finally obtained that the Mirditi would leave the roads free and ensure the peace of Zadrima, on the condition that the Kapidan would take the necessary steps in Constantinople to make them pay what was due to them and return their weapons. For their part, the Commissioner of the Porte and the Consuls promised to write down to the same effect.
Then the Bajraktars and the elders gave, one after the other, the Besa (so called the solemn promise to forget the insults, whatever they are), and to bind them even more closely, the Bishop of Alessio made the Kapidan swear to be fair to his subjects, then the Chiefs to obey the Kapidan. Before parting, all knelt down and begged for his blessing. It was a touching spectacle to see these mountain people so superb towards their enemies, who never forgive an insult, receive with meditation the blessing of their Bishop and unite, with devotion without hypocrisy, in the prayer he addressed to God, to ask him that the work begun had happy results.
The following year, the Porte not fulfilling the promises made by its Commissioner, Kapidan Biba went to Constantinople where, thanks to the benevolence of the French Embassy, justice was rendered to him, and as a price for his past services he obtained the rank of Brigadier General and a higher rank in the order of Medjidie.
The news of the restitution of the weapons and the reimbursement of the pay came all the more in connection with the fact that, tired of waiting and accusing their Kapidan again, the Mirdites recommenced their forays into Zadrima and it was feared a new movement on their part.
ALESSIO AND MATHIA MOUNTAINS
To put an end to the various mountain tribes, it only remains for me to speak of those which are included in the district of Alessio.
These mountains, separating this city from the Mirditi, serve, so to speak, as a vanguard for the latter with whom their inhabitants are allied and whom they follow in war. These tribes are divided into four Bajraks, namely:
The Bajrak of Schela, whose main village is Reche, comprising two hundred hungry people, of which fifty are Muslim, who form a population of two thousand two hundred souls.
That of Selite, on the left bank of Mathia, having from one hundred and seventy to one hundred and eighty houses, of which seventy are Muslim, and a population of one thousand seven hundred and fifty individuals.
That of Skatch, with two hundred families, of which only thirty profess Islamism, and a population of about two thousand souls.
The bajarak of Lura, made up of eighty families, half of whom abjured the Catholic religion barely forty years ago. The head of this Bajrak is Muslim and the maternal uncle of the Kapidan of Mirdite.
Finally the actual mountains of Alessio, all inhabited by Christians, whose main population centers are: Krouensie, (black head), Boulgaro, Vilia and Non Molon, together counting from two thousand five hundred to three thousand inhabitants.
Extract from Hyacinthe Hecquard: Histoire et Description de la Haute Albanie ou Guégarie (Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1858), p. 219-247. Translated from French by Bianca M. Gjomarkaj.
1A military and civilian order of the Ottoman Empire.
2In the mountains, the chiefs responsible for administering justice and for safeguarding, in the assemblies, the interests of the village or of the tribe are called vieillards (elders). Appointed for election in the other mountains, they are hereditary among the Mirdites, and this ‘elder’ name is the designation of functions which formerly had to be fulfilled by older men.
3Contrary to the writing in this book, Gjomarku did not kidnap the wife of Bib Doda (Margjele). She was the dauther of Sul Ajazi of Kruja and they were married according to the Kanun. They were joined in marriage of their own free will and of the will of their families; she converted to Catholicism and her name was changed to Margjele. “Dera e Gjomarkut” by Ndue Gjon Marku (New York 2002) – p.35
4Correction. Gjon Marku eldest son’s name was Llesh Gjoni I, who had three sons: Prenk Lleshi, Llesh I zi and Dod Lleshi.
5Correction. Should be Dod Prenk.
7Translation of Lleshi i Zi.
8Gjok Dod is the son of Dod Lleshi not Prenk Dod.
9The events described in this paragraph are incorrect. The assassin were paid to kill the son of Marka Lleshi (Lleshi i Zi’s son), Gjon Marku, who was 17 at the time, as well as Bib Doda (the son of Dod Prenk). Both of these boys were saved by the loyal servants of the family, who hid them in a chest and safely brought them out of the house at night. Hence the lineage of the Dera e Gjomarkut was saved from extinction.
10Bib Doda not Prenk Bib Doda (1860-1919)
11The commander-in-chief and Minister of War of the Ottoman Empire.
12Order of Glory.
13Military and Knightly order of the Ottoman Empire.
14Pledge of Honor
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