Sarajevo Under Siege

After Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, Bosnia and Herzegovina had to take the same route. In a referendum held on 29 February 1992, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for an independent and sovereign state. On the day Aggression on Bosnia started (4 April 1992), the European Community recognized the international and legal subjectivity of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 21 May 1992, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was admitted to the United Nations.

On 6 April, the day Sarajevo was liberated in the II World War, the city came under siege, exactly 47 years later. The first day of the siege of Sarajevo is remembered for demonstrations for peace, ceasefire, freedom and unity for all the citizens. At the same time, the Aggressor claims his first war victims from already established sniper positions on surrounding hills. While shocked protestors ran for cover, two young women, Suada Dilberović, a medical grad student from Dubrovnik and Olga Sučić, a mother of two, were killed on Vrbanja Bridge by sniper fire from Serbian barricades near the former Unioninvest building. They were the first of 10,514 victims who lost their lives during the forthcoming three year long siege of Sarajevo.

“Kap moje krvi poteče i Bosna ne presuši!” (A drop of my blood is spilled, so the Bosnia River may never run dry) are the words engraved on a memorial plaque marking this tragic event which marked the beginning of the longest siege of any city in modern history of mankind.

Former JNA (Yugoslav National Army) surrounded the city and began to tighten the noose around 500,000 citizens. About 62 kilometers long circle around Sarajevo was finally closed on 2 May 1992. It was the start of the siege which will last 1,395 days. After April’s open armed attack, on this day the Aggressors forces showered the city with thousands of projectiles. Half of the city was destroyed and in flames, including the Post Office building. On that day, 40,000 telephone lines went quiet.

It all started on that 2 May in the afternoon when the commander of the Army Hall refused to hand the building over to the Territorial Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After exchanging gunfire, JNA tanks move in and try to break the city in two halves. The heaviest battles took place in Skenderija where several tanks and transporters came just few meters away from the Presidency and International Press Center buildings.

When citizens offered resistance, the Aggressor was forced to retreat but continued with shelling. Further complications arise when at 19:00, after talks in Lisbon, a delegation led by the first President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović, lands on already occupied Sarajevo airport. The whole delegation is taken hostage by JNA. By pure coincidence, president Izetbegović gets in contact with TVSA news editor Senad Hadžifejzović and the whole thing becomes a public media spectacle. The result of the longest news program in the history of television is an agreement that the following day members of the delegation will be released in exchange for the undisturbed withdrawal of JNA Command from Bistrik. The shelling continues throughout the night, regardless, and the city is turned into an inferno.

On 3 May, people on the streets of Sarajevo carried their daily newspaper Oslobođenje in their hands. On the front page under the headline “The brutal attack on Sarajevo”, it read: “Only the morning will tell how many lives were lost during yesterday’s day of hell in Sarajevo. Without a doubt, it was the hardest day in its history so far.”

For three and a half years, the city was exposed to constant artillery and sniper fire, as well as the systematic destruction by Serbian aggressor. Civilian population suffered the most – deprived of water, electricity and gas, as well as virtually any regular communication and connection with the outside world. From the start of the aggression and the siege of Sarajevo until 31 July 1995, the number of people killed, died of cold and hunger or gone missing rose to 10,514 civilians including 3,381 children. The material damage the city suffered during the aggression and siege, primarily through the destruction of residential blocks, cultural goods and industrial facilities and roads, is priceless.

During the 1,264 days of siege and aggression against Sarajevo, a tunnel constructed underneath the airport runway, from Dobrinja to Butmir was the only link the city had with free territory and the outside world. “Tunelspasa” (Tunnel of Hope) became a symbol of resistance of both Sarajevo and its people. Built between 27 March and 30 July 1993, it was 800m long, 1m wide and 1,6m high.

The “scars” left by shelling and countless explosions are still evident on the walls of buildings and on the payment. Shrapnels left holes or created unusual “ornaments”. Some of these holes are filled with red cement and they resemble roses. In Sarajevo, those holes “like red roses” mark the spots where the civilians were killed by shells: the football field in Dobrinja III (1993 – nine people killed, 104 injured, mainly children), Budaković Cemetery (1993 – 12 people killed), queue for water in Dobrinja (1993 – 13 killed, 15 wounded), Markale Market (1994 – 66 killed and 197 wounded).

On 27 May 1992 in front of a shop in Ferhadija Street aggressors grenades killed 17 citizens of Sarajevo while they were waiting in line to buy bread. The massacre in Ferhadija was sadly, just the first in a series of terrible crimes committed by the Serbian aggressor against innocent citizens of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995. For months after the massacre, Sarajevo cellist performed Albinoni’s Adagio exactly at noon at the scene of the massacre, in memory and respect of the citizens who lost their lives.

According to some estimates, at any given time Sarajevo was targeted with 1,600 artillery tubes: 120 tanks, 180 military transporters, between 500 and 550 PAMs and PATs and 150 other larger caliber weapons. (This number of weapons is significantly higher than what the Allied forces used in the final liberation of Berlin in 1945.) According to estimates, over 500,000 missiles were fired, approximately 329 shells per day with a record 3,777 pieces of artillery ammunition fired on the city on 3 July 1993.

Many landmark buildings were demolished or burned down: sports hall Zetra, Town Hall (Vijećnica), the State Parliament and UNIS buildings, Electric Power Industry building and hotels “Holiday Inn”, “Bristol”, “Beograd” and “Evropa”. In addition, almost the entire residential neighborhoods Mojmilo, Dobrinja, Grbavica and Vojničko polje were destroyed.

At the same time, 31,448,000 kilograms of basic groceries were delivered by air bridge (the longest operation of its kind in history, much longer than similar operations in West Berlin), and another 168,432,000 kilos were delivered by trucks. The citizens had just 159 grams of food per day.

In 1995 aggressors grenades killed 45 and injured 90 people in front of the city market Markale. It was the latest in a series of crimes against the civilian population of Sarajevo. After this crime, NATO launched air strikes on the aggressor’s artillery positions around Sarajevo.

Although the war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement on 14 December 1995, a missile launched on 9 January 1996 from Grbavica (at the time still under control of the Army of Republika Srpska), hit a tram killing one woman and injuring 90 people. Those were the last victims of the siege.

The traces of war are still evident. War stories are still told at the War Childhood Museum, Gallery 11/07, History Museum of BiH, Tunnel Museum and Museum of Crimes against Humanity.

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