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HOME > WRACKING OF IDENTITY

Wracking of identity, aimed destruction of cultural inheritance

1996.

"Vojka said to me: This is my favourite place in Sarajevo." We were standing in narrow cobble street in Bascarsija, trade centre in the heart of old Ottoman town. From one side, inside of the fenced yard- with roofed fountain, was a big white Gazi Husref beg*s mosque with two cupolas, built in early 16 century. Biggest mosque in Bosnia and one of most beautiful on Balkan. From the other side, behind the low wall and arch gate door, was a small Gazi Husref beg*s medresa-theological school, same age as mosque, with slope metal roof and eight chimneys, one of two still existing today. Both buildings were built by man, whom they are named after, and both do have, by Seldzuc building tradition, shell shaped portals with grey-green shine, decorated with benches and stone pavements. Serbs were ravingly bombing this neighbourhood and shoop owners were, also ravingly repairing them, all time during the siege.

Wall newspaper, Sarajevo, December 1996

Chris Agee, "Week in Sarajevo"

May 2, 1992 building of post office in Sarajevo was set on fire. It was built in 1913, just before beginning of the First World War. Approximately one month before fire, one morning a graffiti appeared on one of the walls, it said: "This is Serbia", already next morning, a graffiti answer appeared saying: " Fool, this is a post office."

May 17, 1992 Oriental Institute was bombed, it was built in 1891. Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan wrote: " First ruin that I meet during Sarajevo war year, was former Oriental Institute, burned down by grenades during the first days of war. I went there because of that first reason - because of naive hope that it is not as they say, and as it looks, that not all of it is destroyed, I went there stupidly convinced that I will find lot or at least some of the Institute treasure, which was not destroyed. ( People do know that cancer is fatal, until they find out that they have it. Then they feel, then they believe that there is a hope. Once  someone should seriously describe such type of hope, hope that exists despite.)

August 25, 1992, with fire phospore grenades and bullets, city-hall-national library, Secession building, built in 1896, was set on fire. When rain washed off soot and dirt, it became visible that facade is not damaged with missiles, all hits were targeted directly to windows, to set fire inside as quick as possible, and in that way make impossible any attempt to save burned books.

 

May 7,1993, Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka was mined and blown up. Stones, of which it was made, were transported by trucks to city dump, and mosque foundation was demolished with dredgers. Land where mosque was built, was plugh up its new function-parking lot.

A friend of mine, English journalist filmed all phasis of demolition, secretly. One year later she, again, visited Banja Luka and tried to pisture parking lot-ex mosque, but a Serb policeman tried to stop her, saying that , for a journalist that uninteresting parking lot was there since always, and that there were no mosques ever in Banja Luka.

Banja Luka , town in north-west of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was in 1992 inhabited by 82.930 (42,5%) non -Serb inhabitants, today less than 5.000 of the still live there.

Systematic destruction of mosques and other cultural monuments (this chronology is example for all Bosnian towns) has its chronology:

*  April 9,1993   Sefer beg*s mosque was burned down

*  May 7,1993   Ferhadija and Arnaudija, two most beautiful and biggest mosques in       Banja Luka were mined and blown up.

*  May 11,1993   mosque in Vrbanjuπa was demolished

*  May 17,1993   Hadzi Zulfikar's mosque in Desna Novalija was burned down

*  May 26,1993   Behrem Efendija's mosque in Desna Novalija was burned down

*  July 4, 1993   Mehdi-Beg's mosque was demolished

*  July 4, 1993   Sofi Mehmed Pasha's mosque in upper seher was mined and blown up

*  July 4, 1993   Hadzi-Begzad mosque in Grab was demolished

*  July 4,1993   Gazanferija mosque was burned down

*  July 14, 1993    Hadzi-saban's mosque in Desna Novalija was demolished

*  July 14, 1993   Hadzi-Kurd mosque in Lijeva Novoselija was demolished

*  September 6, 1993   Hadzi-erviz mosque was demolished

*  September 8, 1993   Hadzi-Osmanija mosque was destroyed

*  September 9, 1993   Hadzi-Omer's mosque was demolished

*  September 9, 1993   Hadzi-Salihija mosque was burned down

*  December 15, 1993   domed burial site of Ferhad Pasha and his standard bearers was mined and blown up

Age of all those objects was between 500 and 400 years, and it took only 8 months to erase all tracks of one culture (including the graveyards) from the picture of one town.

Unfortunately, Banja Luka is not the only town on Balkan, in which Islamic architectural heritage was completely destroyed.  Uzice (today's Serbia) is a town in which 38 mosques were destroyed in period from 1900 to 1914.  Today, if you walk through Uzice, there is nothing to give you a hint that for 500 years this was a town full of gorgeous architectural treasures of Ottoman period.

Belgrade itself, was embellished with more than 70 mosques, most of them were destroyed untill 1914;  today, there is only one mosque in Belgrade- Bajrakli mosque. During this war, the mosque was mined on several occasions.

Same as the act of burning down the synagogues brought death to millions of Jews, burning down of those beautiful buildings, witnesses of for centuries built culture, whose existence was a certificate of joint life, meant death to more than 300.000 bosnian Muslims and Catholics, meant concentration camps,  meant brutal rapes and sexual torture for app. 45.000 Muslim women; over 20.000 orphans and more than 10.000 invalids only in Sarajevo.

I already got used to the war and genocide, to anger and incredulity- because of Western elite, fascinated with brutality, idly was watching and gave no defence instrument to victims.

I already got used to helplessness and picks of conscience, because my immediate surrounding and every day comfort were not changed at all.

 

I was convinced that nothing can hurt me any more, when on November 19, 1993 at 15:52, in Mostar Croat extremists from western part of the town, demolished Stari Most ( the Old Bridge). All people that I knew from Mostar, new the exact date, hour and the minute when stari most <old bridge> crashed down into the river Neretva, after two days of constant bombing.

My brother recorded on a tape demolition of the bridge. I remember daydreaming how great would it be to have reality such as video tape rewind it backwards, just like catastrophe is just a game, that never happened in reality.

None report about the horrors, and there were so many of them, didn't paralyzed me like this one. I was wondering why it is, that something material and something that can be rebuilt <if not the same then with the same function> occupies me more than all shelded blood in my country, till I realised that with each lifeless stone of Stari Most not only part of my soul died. but part of souls of all of us.

To demolish a monument of culture anywhere in the world is civilisation taboo, braking up that taboo means demolition of civilisation itself.

All those buildings, witnesses of our past were certificates of our future in tolerant, multiethnic and multicultural society;  they were certificate of city identity and culture of joint life;  that's why they were the first targets of barbarian destruction.

Artlessness and helplessness of bosnian people and bosnian politics, confronted with aggressive Serb and Croat nationalism is the same artrlessness and helplessness of any civilisation confronted with barbarism.

Aida Daidzic

URBforum, Sarajevo

Sources:

*  Wall newspaper; No' 8-9, December 1996

*  Behar No. 18, V-VI 1995

*   Dissertation on Islamic architectural heritage, Husref Redzic, Veselin Maslesa 1983

*   Architecture of Bosnia and Herzegovina in period from 1878 till 1918, Ibrahim Krzovic Art galleryof Bosnia and Herzegovina

*  Dzevad Karahasan, Poetics of ruin, publisher: Melcic Dunja  Das Wort im Krieg, Ein Bosnich    -Croatishes Lesebuch

*  daily newspaper "Oslobodjenje", May-August 1992

*   Lexicological Institute of SFRJ-SR BiH

*   Chartographic publications; Croat information Centre (Statistics data from 1991)

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