The Këlmendi in Srem

In 1737, a group of Albanians found themselves in Srem on the plains of what is today the Vojvodina province of Serbia but was then part of Austro-Hungary – one of the flattest places in Central Europe.

These were members of the Këlmendi highland clan, also known as the Clementi and Klimenti (after their patron saint, St Clement (Klementi i Ohrit in Albanian; Sveti Kliment Ohridski in Serbo-Croat). They were originally from the Malësi (specifically the Malet e Kelmendit) near the modern Albanian border with Montenegro. Like other Albanians of this highland region, they were Roman Catholic.

Historically, the Këlmendi engaged in wholesale raiding and brigandage and, a generation earlier, in 1702, as a means of suppressing their activities and their deleterious effect upon trade and travel, the Ottomans forcibly resettled many of them on the harsh Pešter plateau (Albanian: Rrafshnalta e Peshterit) in the Sanjak.

In 1737, these Këlmendi had participated in a joint Serb/Albanian Orthodox/Catholic rising against the Ottomans. This was crushed by October that year and the Këlmendi fled north with their families, alongside the other defeated forces retreating towards Austria.

This is how the Këlmendi came to be settled in two villages, Hrtkovci and Nikinci, as part of the defensive forces, or Grenzer, on the Austrian military frontier (known as Vojna Krajina in Serbo-Croat). There they remained, Albanian-speaking Catholics for two centuries, only becoming assimilated into the local Croat population by the mid-C20th.

It is understood that, like many Croats in this part of Srem, they were displaced during the violent conflicts which accompanied the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. In 1992, a majority of the Croat Catholic population was expelled by Serb nationalists: the inhabitants of Hrtkovci are known to have been resettled in a former Serb village called Kula (itself ethnically cleansed of Serbs by Croats) to the NE of Požega in Croatia.

The Google Map shows the locations of these places. A third Srem village, Platičevo, is mentioned in some sources as being settled by Këlmendi and this is also shown on the map for good measure.