Castes & Clans... Roma Classifications
"My father was Ashkalija; my mother was Roma. But all of us are like shit from a cow; when the cow steps in it, it flies everywhere. We are all the same; we are all from India."
-Azem Beriša, Kosovo Polje/ Fushë Kosovë, Kosovo
"They can call themselves whatever they want: but when Albanians call them, they don’t say 'Hey, Ashkalija,' or 'Hey, Egyptian, come here.' They say 'Hey, Gypsy, come here.'"
- Isak Avdo, Prizren
While all these groups claim ethnic differences between them, the most obvious proof that they are not is found in the frequency in which they intermarry. Roma weddings to non-Roma- Gadje, or outsiders- is extremely rare. Egyptians, Roma and Ashkalija do not classify one another as Gadje.
Ashkalija (also Ashkaelia/ Ashkalia/ Ashkali)
Ashkalija are native Albanian speakers; most lived in Albanian communities. The name Ashkalija comes from the Turkish root-word As, or Has; it was applied to sedentary Kosovar Roma that settled in Albanian areas during Ottoman times. The Ashkalija speak Albanian as their first language; they lost Romanes generations ago. Ashkalija were often blacksmiths, or manual laborers on Ottoman estates. Ashkalija are found mainly in eastern and central Kosovo.
Ashkalija are more known and accepted among Roma; their classification goes back centuries. They, like Roma, discount the claims of Egyptians; the Roma say they’re Roma, and the Ashkalija say they’re Ashkalija. Many Ashkalija and Roma lived in the same communities.
Ashkalija promoted themselves as an ethnicity after the end of the 1999 war, in an attempt to extricate themselves from the violent situation they found themselves in, along with the Roma. During the Kosovo conflict, some Ashkalija, like the Roma, found themselves compelled to support the Serbs; other Ashkalija joined the Kosovo Liberation Army.
"We are from India. But when we worked in the fields of cotton, people would tell us that we were Egyptians."
-Ilijas Culjandji, Prizren, Kosovo
The medieval Ragusan official who recorded two Roma petitioners as Egyptiorum is cited by modern-day Roma-Egyptian scholars to justify their claims of origin.
Egyptians live in Western Kosovo- mostly in Djakovica/ Gjakovë, Pec/ Pejë, and Decani/ Deçan. New Egyptians are essentially Roma with more skills, who have sought to distance themselves from the ‘Gypsy image’ by declaring themselves ethnically different as well as economically different.
The Egyptian origin of Roma was accepted until the 18th century, when the new science of linguistics connected them with northern India. The Egyptian ethnicity was ‘created’, first in Macedonia, and later, in Kosovo, by Albanized Roma who sought to distinguish themselves from Albanians and assert their own identity. In 1990 an Egyptian association was formed in Ohrid, Macedonia; this was followed by a Kosovo association, and later, a Yugoslav-wide group. By 1995, 15,000 Roma registered themselves as members. Miloševic supported Egyptian claims; in past censuses, Egyptians had registered as Albanians. In 1991, the new census allowed for Egyptian as an ethnicity. Egyptians claim that Ashkalija are ignorant Egyptians.
After the 1999 war, many more Albanized Roma- and some who could not even speak Albanian- reclassified themselves as Egyptians, to distance themselves from Roma.
Many Egyptians were forced to flee into Serbian/ Roma areas after the conflict. Those that fled into the Serb northern municipalities have been assaulted and threatened due to their use of the Albanian language.
Many argue that Gurbeti may be a subgroup of Arlija, and vice-versa. These classifications are presented simply as how Roma class themselves.
The main difference between Roma subgroups is not found in tradition, but in geographic locale and dialect. The Arlija word for dog is Djukel; the Gurbeti word is Djucel; and the Bugurdjije word is Rukuno.
(Alternate: Arlia/ Arlije)- are found throughout Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria; some Kosovar Roma still identify themselves as such- mainly in Prizren. Arlija are traditionally blacksmiths; besides a Roma subgroup, Arlija can be considered an interchangeable term with most Kosovar Roma, for those who still identify themselves as Roma.
Serbian Gypsies (a pejorative term). These Arlija became sedentary, settled in Serbian areas, converted to Serbian Orthodoxy, and have intermarried with Serbs. A significant number of Srpski Cigani are found in Gracanica, across town from the Muslim Roma Mahalla. The two communities disparage one another; the Srpski Cigani are better educated, and have higher rates of employment.