The Ashkali (also Aškalije, Haškalije, Hashkali) and Balkan Egyptians (Jevgs, Egjiptjant or Gjupci) are Albanian-speaking ethnic cultural minorities (recognized communities) which mainly inhabit Kosovo. They are sometimes considered to be Albanized Romani, but they do not self-identify as such. Prior to the Kosovo War of 1999, Ashkali registered themselves as Albanians. Now they are divided by identifying with two different groups, although the people share culture, traditions and language (Albanian).
During the Kosovo War, they were displaced as refugees in Albania, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia and whole Western Europe such as Germany and France. The "Ashkali" identity was created in 1999, as they tried to show their pro-Albanian stance and distinguish themselves from the Roma (Gypsies).
The "Ashkali" have been classed as a "new ethnic identity in the Balkans", formed in the 1990s.
The name "Ashkali" comes from the Turkish root-word As (Has). It was earlier applied to sedentary Roma who settled in Albanian areas during Ottoman Empire times. The Ashkalija speak Albanian as their first language. Ashkalija often worked as blacksmiths, or manual laborers on Ottoman estates. Ashkalija are found mainly in eastern and central Kosovo. The Ashkali people claim that they have originated in Persia, now Iran, in 4th century BC (Ashkal, Gilan, Iran); however, there are other theories of the Ashkali coming from Turkey in a village called Aşkale (Erzurum district of Turkey), or possibly have come from Palestine ages ago in the city of Ashkalon (now in Israel). Still, some believe they are travelers from Northern India (Romani) who have used the Albanian language as their mother-tongue.
A 14th-century reference to a placename (Агѹповы клѣти, Agupovy klěti) in the Rila Charter of Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria is thought to be related to the Balkan Egyptians according to some authors, such as Konstantin Josef Jireček.
In 1990, an "Egyptian association" was formed in Ohrid, Macedonia. During the Kosovo War, Albanized Roma were displaced as refugees in Albania and the Republic of Macedonia. Many Ashkali fought in the Kosovo Liberation Army. Albanized Roma formed the ethnic group Ashkali after the end of the war in 1999, to show their pro-Albanian stance and distinguish themselves from the Roma, who had been negatively viewed as pro-Serbian during the war. Many Albanized Roma were also sent to refugee camps with other Roma, with whom they did not share the same language and customs. As the majority of Kosovo (or Albanized) Roma, many Ashkali refugees settled in Serbia and Montenegro. The first Ashkali party (Democratic Party of the Ashkali Albanians of Kosovo) was formed in 2000 under Sabit Rrahmani, who supported Kosovo independence in the name of all Ashkali.
In Kosovo, the Ashkali were aligned with Albanians before, during and after the Kosovo War. However, Ashkali, along with Romani Gypsies from Kosovo, have reportedly been expelled from the area.
Most Ashkali and Egyptians live in Kosovo and Republic of Macedonia, but the peoples also reside in Albania, Serbia and Montenegro. In the Macedonian census of 2002, 3,713 people self-identified as "Egyptian". In the Serbian census of 2002 (excluding Kosovo), 814 people self-identified as "Egyptian". In the Montenegrin census, 225 people self-identified as "Egyptian".
Ashkali are predominant in the central and eastern regions of Kosovo: Ferizaj, Kosovo Polje and Lipljan. Egyptians live in western Kosovo: in Gjakova, Istok, Peja and Deçan. The Ashkali/Egyptian community of Kosovo had 98% unemployment in 2009.
Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians claim ethnic differences among them. Marriages between Egyptians and Albanians are very rare but still more frequent than marriages between Romani and Albanians, while marriages between Egyptians with Roma are extremely rare. Roma and Ashkalija do not classify one another as Gadje. The Ashkali and Roma claim the Egyptians as their own; whereas the Ashkali and Egyptians dispute over each other's background. No television or radio channels are dedicated to Askhali or Egyptian minority audiences.