The Kanun is a set of traditional Albanian laws. The Kanun was primarily oral and only in the 20th century was it published in writing. The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini (Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit) was codified in the 15th century. Six later variations eventually evolved:
The Kanun of Skanderbeg is the closest in similarity with the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, and the latter is usually the most known and is also regarded as a synonym of the word kanun. The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini was developed by Lekë Dukagjini, who codified the existing customary laws. It has been used mostly in northern and central Albania and surrounding areas formerly in Yugoslavia where there is a large ethnic Albanian population; Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. It was first codified in the 15th century but the use of it has been outspread much earlier in time. It was used under that form until the 20th century, and revived recently after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s.
The term kanun comes from the Greek "κανών" ("canon"), meaning amongst others "pole" or "rule" and was transported from Greek to Arabic and then into early Turkish. Kanun was also known by the word of Doke.
The practice of the oral laws that Lekë Dukagjini codified in the Kanun was suggested by Edith Durham as dating back to the Bronze Age. Some authors have conjectured that the Kanun may derive from ancient Illyrian tribal laws. Other authors have suggested that the Kanun has retained elements from Indo-European prehistoric eras.
However several stratifications can be easily observed in the code, beginning with pre-Indoeuropean, Indoeuropean, Ancient Greek, Roman, general Balkan and Osmanli.
According to Serbian authors T. O. Oraovac and S. S. Djuric, it is largely based on Dušan's Code, the constitution of the Serbian Empire (enacted 1349), which at the time held the whole of Albania. Noel Malcolm speculates that an article in Dušan's Code was an early attempt to clamp down on the self-administered customary law of the mountains, as later codified in the Kanun of Lek Dukagjin, and if so, this would be the earliest evidence that such customary laws were in effect. Despite the similarities the majority of scientists agree that the Code of Leke Dukagjini is not the same as Dusans Code and that such conclusions are "far-fetched". When the Turkish invaders conquered the medieval Serbian state many customary laws of social life amongst the Balkan peoples were brought back to use, this included the Albanians. The town of Shkodra had for example, before Dušan's Code, its own customary laws and rules.
Lekë Dukagjini was allegedly the first who codified the "Kanun" in the 15th century. The code was written down only in the 19th century by Shtjefën Gjeçovi and partially published in the Hylli i Drites periodical in 1913. The full version appeared only in 1933 after Gjeçovi's death in 1926. In 1989 a dual English-Albanian version was published. and then replicated in a 1992 version.
Although the laws are attributed to Lekë Dukagjini, the laws evolved over time as a way to bring law and rule to these lands. The Kanun was[when?] divided into 12 sections, and Gjeçovi's version has 1,262 articles which regulate all aspects of the mountainous life: economic organisation of the household, hospitality, brotherhood, clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land, and so on. The Besa (personal honour, compare with Lat. fides) and nderi (family honour, Lat. honor) are of prime importance throughout the code as the cornerstone of personal and social conduct. The Kanun applies to both Christian and Muslim Albanians.
Some of the most controversial rules of the Kanun (in particular book 10 section 3) specify how murder is supposed to be handled, which often in the past and sometimes still now led to blood feuds that last until all the men of the two involved families are killed. Women are only seen as producers of offspring and are referred to in a discriminatory manner and so are not considered worthy targets. In some parts of the country, the Kanun resembles the Italian vendetta. These rules have resurfaced during the 1990s in Northern Albania, since people had no faith in the powerless local government and police. There are organizations that try to mediate between feuding families and try to get them to "pardon the blood" (Albanian: Falja e Gjakut), but often the only resort is for men of age to stay in their homes, which are considered a safe refuge by the Kanuni, or flee the country. The Albanian name for blood feud is Gjakmarrja.
Former communist leader of Albania Enver Hoxha effectively stopped the practice of Kanun with hard repression and a very strong state police. However, after the fall of communism, some communities have tried to rediscover the old traditions, but some of their parts have been lost, leading to fears of misinterpretation.
Notably, the current Albanian Penal Code does not contain any provisions from the Kanun that deal with blood feuds, and no acknowledgment of this code is made in the contemporary Albanian legal system. In 2014 about 3,000 Albanian families were estimated to be involved in blood feuds and this since the fall of Communism has led to the deaths of 10,000 people.
The Kanun is based on four pillars:
The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is composed of 12 books and 1,262 articles. The books and their subdivisions are the following:
Albanian writer Ismail Kadare evokes the Kanun several times in his books and has it as the main theme in his novel Broken April. He also evoques the kanun in his novel Komisioni i festës (English: The Celebration Commission), where Kadare literally describes the Monastir massacre of 1830 as the struggle between two empires: the Albanian Kanun with its code of besa and the Ottoman Empire itself. According to Kadare in his literary critique book Eskili, ky humbës i madh (English: Aeschylus, this big loser), where loser refers to the great number of tragedies that were lost from Aeschylus, there are evident similarities between the kanun and the vendetta customs in all the Mediterranean countries.
Joshua Marston's 2011 film The Forgiveness of Blood, a drama set in modern-day Albania, deals with the Kanun. The film relates a blood feud between two families in Northern Albania, focusing primarily on how the feud affects the children of one family.
The Kanun plays a major role in the Belgian movie Dossier K.
Belgian TV maker Tom Waes visited Albania during one of the shows in his series Reizen Waes. He was served spit roasted goat and was offered the head of the goat. According to Kanun rules, this is how they honor a guest during dinner.
The Kanun is referred to in "The Closer" Season 6 Episode 14 "The investigation into the Albanian blood feud"