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The early 1990’s was the time when Europe was celebrating its triumph over communism. The U.S.S.R. was defeated, east and West Germany was reunited, and the Berlin Wall was demolished. The European countries were booming economically; single currency for the whole Europe was introduced, making them more united with each other under the organization of the European Union. On the contrary, in the same part of the world something evil was happening while the rest of the Europe was at peace and serenity. Hatred was growing among the same people of the same country. Yugoslavia, one of the Balkan countries, was going to burst out. Europe was going to experience once again the horrors and terrors of war. No one imagined that the horrendous crimes committed by the Nazi regime would be repeated once again in Europe. The country, which most of the people know for its hosting of the famous Olympics games in 1984, was destroyed and turned into rubble.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, often called Bosnia, was one of the states that got separated from Yugoslavia in 1992. Bosnia was an ethnically diverse country. Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims had been living together in Bosnia for centuries. Bosnia was a Muslim country, but Bosnian Serbians and Bosnian Croats made up 31% and 16% of the total population respectively. Though history tells us that these ethnic groups were never in peace with each other, and each ethnic group considers the other groups as their bitter enemy, they maintained to live together with each other within one state. After the Declaration of Independence of 1992 by Bosnia from Yugoslavia, civil war erupted between the Bosnian Serbs and the government. Bosnian Serbs, backed by Serbia, defied the independence and started killing the non- Serbs. They committed some of the most horrible crimes in the war. They massacred tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, raped thousands of women, and tortured and killed people in the detention camps. It was genocide, and an ethnic cleansing against the non- Serbs, mainly Bosnian Muslims. The bloody civil war lasted for four years.  There was no confirmed source of how many people were killed during the war, but according to the U.N. report about 200,000 to 400,000 were killed, about 50,000 women were raped, and approximately 2 million people were displaced and became refugees.   
In order to get the complete scenario of the four year long civil war in Bosnia, we must look into the historical and political background of Bosnia and the ethnic groups living in it. Yugoslavia has gone through many wars in the recent past. In the quest for power it was attacked and oppressed by many outsiders. The Greeks, the Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire have invaded and ruled this part of the Balkan one by one. On June 28, 1914, a Serbian patriot from Bosnia assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to throne of Austria-Hungry, in Sarajevo (Shams 1993:34). Austria-Hungry believed that Serbia had sponsored the assassination and declared war on it. This historical event was the main reason that initiated World War I. After the war and the fall of Ottoman Empire, the victorious Western Allies created a multicultural country, Yugoslavia. It was a religiously and ethnically diverse country mainly consisted of Serbs who were Orthodox Christian, Croats who were Catholics, and ethnic Albanians who were Muslims. The country was ruled under the monarchy. Yugoslavia remained calm and peaceful until World War II. In 1941, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and took control of it. Internal resistance movements rose against the invaders. A partisan army, led by a Croat named Marshal Josip Broz Tito, who was a communist, fought against the Nazis. After the end of the war, the partisans engulfed the country and controlled most of its affairs. Tito was seen as a national hero, and was elected by referendum as the prime minister of the newly independent communist state. Tito established six republics and two autonomous provinces in Yugoslavia: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia and Serbia. The new government did very well in uniting and maintaining peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse Yugoslavia.  Nationalism among the general public was banned and many nationalist leaders were arrested under Tito’s rule. The country was economically and politically stable.
After the death of Josip Tito in 1980, tensions erupted between the different ethnicities in Yugoslavia. Nationalism was flared up and republics wanted independence from the state. In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence.  All the republics wanted independence except Serbia, under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic, who wanted a dominion over all the Yugoslavia. In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina also declared independence. The Bosnian Serbs rose against the government in response to the declaration of the independence. Bosnian Serbs with the help of Serbia and the Yugoslav army (which consisted mostly of Serbs) attacked the government institutions and Bosnian Muslims in order to take over the country. The Bosnian government limited weapons and was poorly equipped while the rebels backed by Serbia had modern weapons. They attacked the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, and besieged it for almost four years. The Serbs in the surrounding hills of Sarajevo fired hundreds of bombs daily into the city that killed thousands of innocent civilians in the four years of war. The Bosnian Serbs committed atrocities similar to those that had occurred under the Nazi regime in World War II. They attacked the villages, separated men from women, and took them to concentration camps.  Men were mostly killed while women were raped. Despite these brutalities committed by Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Muslims, the world powers were silent. The U.N. imposed arms embargo for all the former Yugoslavia, but it didn’t stop the war. The world powers kept themselves away from the war, and didn’t intervene militarily until 1994 when the U.N. peacekeepers were sent to Bosnia to curb the war.    
Religion was used as a sole reason to commit the crimes against the Bosnian Muslims. The Serbs accused the Muslims of being fundamentalists. Serbs were afraid that the Muslims were going to create an Islamic state in Bosnia, and that would affect the other European countries with their Islamic beliefs and values. The Serbs justified their cruel actions with the statements like these. However in reality, Muslims in Bosnia were never fundamentalists. They were far away from Islam. The attendance of the mosques was about 3%. The women didn’t cover their faces, and mostly wore skirts and other western dresses. The consumption of alcohol and pork was not forbidden by the government. They kept a liberal approach to the religion. In fact, they were quite westernized in their life styles. An Arab fighter, who came to Bosnia to assist the Muslims, said, while explaining his views about the Bosnian Muslims, “They (Bosnian Muslims) have not yet understood the reason for their struggle. They have a great deal to learn. To fight, a Muslim soldier must be ready to die for Allah. These people have not understood this yet; they do not understand their mission.” (Vulliamy 1994:64). The Bosnian Muslims enjoyed their way of living and did not want to be labeled as Islamic fundamentalists. They laid more stress on spirits rather than on rituals. A middle aged Islamic fighter was asked by a journalist that whether he is fighting in order to make Bosnia an Islamic republic, he replied, “I spit on the Islamic republic. Islamic republic? What sort of Islamic state would that be? I am forty and I have never been in a mosque. If there was an Islamic state, there would be a lot of Muslims eating sausages in it.” (Vulliamy 1994:64). It was all propaganda that was spread by the Serbs to recreate a “Greater Serbia”, and to oust the Bosnian Muslims from Bosnia. It has been observed that the mass killings of Muslims were conducted in such a way to flush them out of Bosnia, but most of the Bosnian Muslims fought with carrying the Islamic identity with them, at least. A liberal young fighter told about his motive to fight against the Serbs: “I never thought of myself as a Muslim. I don’t know how to pray. I never went to mosque. I am a European. I do not want the Arabs to help us; I want Europe to help us. Now, I do have to think of myself as a Muslim, not in a religious way, but as a member of the people. Now we are faced with obliteration; I have to understand what it is about me and my people they wish to obliterate.” (Vulliamy 1994:64).
During a war, different tactics were used by a rival group to demoralize them. They tried to humiliate and degrade them. Rape of women was one of those tactics to show the strength and power of the attacking party. During the civil war in Bosnia, thousands of women were raped and sexually abused by Bosnian Serbs. It was a tool used by the Serbs to wound the feelings and emotions of the Bosnian Muslims. The women who were raped ranged from minor girls to elderly women. After the war, many testimonies of women raped by the Serbs were recorded. The mother of a five-year-old girl recounted the brutality of the Serbs. One night in the detention camp, a Serb soldier took her daughter forcibly. She was gone for the whole night. Another night, the soldier came and told her to come with him. He took her to another room, and asked her to undress. Then, she was raped by seven Serb soldiers. After that her daughter was returned. She wasn’t wearing any pants, and blood was streaming down her legs and all she could say was that, “A man touched me”. The trauma and sufferings of rape remained throughout Bosnian women’s life. The agonies of this ferocious act haunt the women to this day. They want to forget it, but the moments flash back to them in their nightmares. Women were an easy target for Serb soldiers. Bosnian women had to suffer with this mental torture for the rest of their lives. After the war, they were stigmatized by their own people and many were out- casted. Many women were not allowed to do abortion, and gave birth to children which remained with them throughout their lives and reminded them of their rape. A twenty-six-year old woman narrates the story of her life in detention camp that, “They would come to the camps, and point the torches at the girls or women they wanted…They would insult us, insults which I cannot repeat to myself… I was violated at least once every other night on average, for a number of weeks. This was in various places… I became pregnant quite soon, but was lucky to be early enough to have an abortion, which others were not. I have not had a single regret about having an abortion”. Serb soldiers were given a clear signal to take the women they like from the detention camps. They would come to the camps, would choose a woman, and take her. Rapes were clearly used as a source to humiliate the Bosnian Muslims. Sometimes, they would rape a woman in front of their families. A fourteen year old girl was tied naked to a tank and driven around her village. After being raped she was thrown in front of her parents. The testimonies of rape were not easy to recount. They brought back with themselves the disgrace, humiliation and agonies. Rape doesn’t just leave a physical scar, but it haunts a woman throughout her life, and leaves her mentally disturbed. In Bosnia, it wasn’t just a rape, it was an organized rape. Letting the soldiers free by their commanders to carry out rapes of innocent women was an organized crime to oppress the Bosnian Muslims, and show their strength in the war.
The massacre and civil war of Bosnia can be divided into two parts: crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb soldiers during the four years siege of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, and the mass killings of innocent Bosnian Muslims in the villages and towns of Bosnia. The siege of Sarajevo was one of the most tragic events happened in the history of mankind. The city was once a sophisticated city at the heart of Europe. A city full of cafes, restaurants, schools, churches, mosques, libraries, and happy people. A multi ethnic city, in which Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims were living together happily and merrily. But the peace of the city ended when the Bosnian Serbs besieged the city in order to overtake it. Every day the city would be bombarded with mortar shells, killing innocent civilians. Sarajevo looked like a ghost town once the siege was started. The once beautiful city turned into rubble and the city became hell for the Sarajevo’s citizens.
Sarajevo is a long and narrow city surrounded by hills and mountains. It is located in the Miljacka River valley. The siege of Sarajevo officially began on 6 June, 1992. It is considered as the longest siege of the capital city in the history of modern warfare. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Serbs started to react by attacking government institutions all around the country. Thousands of people from different ethnicities took to the streets of Sarajevo to protest the attacks. They were marching towards the Parliament building which was reportedly seized by the Serbs. The Serbs opened fired on the unarmed peaceful protestors which resulted in the deaths of several protestors. That day marked the beginning of the siege and bombardment of the Serb’s artilleries from surrounding hills on Sarajevo. The Serbs blocked every road connected to the city. The city’s utilities i.e. electricity, water, gas supplies were cut off. They cut the supplies of food and medicine. No one was allowed to enter or exit the city. Sarajevo was isolated from rest of the world and the citizens were forced to live in awful conditions.
The Bosnian armed forces immediately started to defend Sarajevo. Ordinary civilians, mainly Bosnian Muslims, joined them on the front lines to defend their beloved city. The citizens belonged to different walks of life and didn’t have any prior experience of combat. As Roy Gutman reports in his book, “Bosnia’s Muslims were not the fierce Mujahedin warriors of Serb propaganda; they were mostly city dwellers, artisans, teachers, doctors, small businessmen and farmers, predominantly pacifists. . . .They did not have an army, a military tradition or weapons”. Though the Serbs had more sophisticated and modern weaponry than the Bosnian Muslims, but the Muslims were outnumbered and that is why the Serbs couldn’t take over the city so easily. The bombardment was aimed to weaken the defense forces. The Serbs committed a lot of atrocities during the four years of siege. The Serb snipers, resided in the surrounding hills, made the life hell for the citizens of Sarajevo. They would shoot innocent civilians, old and young. They positioned themselves in such a way that it was hard to cross certain roads. Many streets in Sarajevo got famous by the name of “Sniper Alleys”.  “Pazite, Snajper!” meaning “Beware! Snipers” were written on many street sign boards, where there were high risks of being shot by the snipers. A lot of people fell prey to the sniper shots. Children, men, women, old and young were the victims.
The life in Sarajevo during the war was very hard. The life had come to still. The citizens had to line up for water for hours. There was no electricity. The winters were severe. Without gas, they had to bear the bitter coldness of winter. The temperature would sometimes fall below minus 15 degree Celsius. The hospitals were always full of injured people and dead bodies. The Serbs also deliberately fired mortars at hospitals and schools. No place was safe for the citizens. People wanted to escape the city but they couldn’t. Sarajevo was home to many historical buildings and most of them were destroyed by the mortar shells. A citizen of Sarajevo tells about the siege that, “You can kill a life without killing anyone. It’s a psychological way of destroying civilians bit by bit by destroying normal life- food, electricity, water. It is a wish to humiliate, denigrate” (Giovanni 1994:26). Almost every building in Sarajevo got some degree of damage and about 35,000 buildings were completely destroyed. Many massacres were committed by the Serbs during the siege. In of the attacks, 15 people died when the Serb artillery shell struck the football ground. The biggest causality of civilians was when the Serbs fired on civilians lined up for water. 68 people lost their lives in that attack. There isn’t any exact number of the people died during the four years of siege of Sarajevo but in a UN report about 10,000 civilians were killed, including 1500 children. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 435,000. The current estimates of the number of persons living in Sarajevo range between 300,000 and 380,000 residents. Every day the citizens of Sarajevo hoped that the outside world will come for their rescue but no one interrupted and turned a blind eye towards the killing of Serbs.
In Bosnia, thousands of innocent people were being killed; thousands of women were being raped, people were being tortured and killed in concentration camps, the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims were being taking place, every day more and more people were being wiped out, yet the whole world was watching all these ferocious crimes like a spectator and didn’t do anything to stop the Serbs from their atrocities. The war lasted for four years and the powerful nations of the world didn’t bother to intervene to stop the war. It wasn’t that the United Nations and the international community were not aware of the war crimes but they just left Bosnia on their own. The United Nations did send relief goods for the people of Bosnia but taking military action against the Serbs was not their option. The UN and other organizations sent hundreds of humanitarian aid workers, medical and food supplies, tried to evacuate civilians from the war zones, which was commendable but they could have done more than that. The Bosnia’s war showed the failure of the West. Had the international community done something before the war started, the world wouldn’t have seen the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs. Bosnia should have been saved, it could have been saved.
The inaction of the European countries and the West over the war in Bosnia could be attributed to the Bosnian government itself (Rieff 1995:11). Before the war had started, the then President of Bosnia, Alia Izetbegovic, had the policies of giving more rights and privileges to the Bosnian Muslims. He was a kind of religious leader and wanted a separate nation for the Bosnian Muslims. The West was afraid that the Islamic fundamentalism could spread to the rest of the Europe. After the declaration of independence by Bosnia and the Serbs started to attack government institutions, the West was silent because they wanted the Bosnian government to be overthrown. The President Izetbegovic asked the UN and NATO to deploy the peacekeeping force in Bosnia but his plea was rejected. He turned to the Muslim countries for help. The Muslim world gave a positive response and helped them militarily by sending military equipments and even their soldiers. Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were among those who helped the most (Rieff 1995:12). But the West misjudged the Bosnian Muslims. Though the President was a religious leader and wanted somewhat to make Bosnia an Islamic country, the Bosnian Muslims were quite liberal religiously, as mentioned before in the paper. The Bosnian government couldn’t force their own will on the Bosnian Muslims. They were not fundamentalists. The misjudgment of Bosnians by the West led to the annihilation of thousands of Bosnian Muslims.
After the war started in Bosnia, the UN imposed arms embargo on every party involved in the war. The most hurt by this sanction were Bosnian Muslims. The Serbs could buy and import weapons through black market while the landlocked Bosnia had no option but to stick to the sanction. The West knew that the embargo is going to hurt Bosnia the most but still they didn’t lift the sanction on Bosnia. The arms embargo didn’t stop the war but made the Bosnian Muslims more vulnerable to the attacks of the Serbs. If the embargo wasn’t imposed then the Bosnian Muslims would have been in better position to defend themselves and much destruction wouldn’t have happened. No military help from the UN and NATO arrived in Bosnia until 1994 when the Serbs had already killed thousands of innocent civilians. The UN gave ultimatum to the Serbs to withdraw their forces from Bosnia and end the siege of Sarajevo or face the air strikes. The Serbs obliged to the order which decreased the attacks of the Serbs to a greater degree. But the UN peacekeeping forces had to take action when the Serbs attacked the UN post. After that the NATO air force struck the military bases of the Serbs for several days and it weakened the Serb forces. In early 1995, the Serb forces withdrew from the frontlines and it started the beginning of the end.
The UN, the European Union, the Muslim world and other international community did help the people of Bosnia by sending them relief goods and other supplies but a lot more could have been done. It was a moral obligation of the rich and powerful countries to help the Bosnian Muslims. The Prime Minister of Bosnia, during the war, said again and again that, “What is going on is genocide. In the West, many people choose to call it war. But it’s not war; it’s slaughter” (Rieff 1994:17).
In July 1995, President Clinton bemoaned in an interview, “It’s tragic, it’s terrible. But their enmities go back five hundred years; some would say almost a thousand years” (Larry King Live, June 5, 1995). What the American President pointed out was quite true. The age old antagonism between the Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims did ignite the civil war. Their different religions were the main reason, besides other reasons, that started the war. The Serbs were Orthodox Christians, the Croats were Catholics and there were Muslims who were converted during the reign of Ottoman Empire. The Serbs had a great hostility and ill will towards the Muslims, which can be dated back to 14th century. In 1389, when the Ottoman Sultan Murat killed the Prince Lazar of Serbia and took the control of Serbia (Davis 1996: 28). The Serbs lost their independence and came under the control of Turk Muslims and the Muslims ruled over Serbia for centuries until late 19th century. During the peak of nationalism in 1980’s in Yugoslavia, the Serbs gave lazar the character of Christ and equated the Muslims with Christ killers. The Serbs called the contemporary Muslims traitors because their ancestors betrayed Christianity and converted to Islam. They accused them that the blood of Lazar was on their hands. The American writer Norris cites the Belgrade academic Miroljub Jevtic,” Because of this [the conversion of Bosnians to Islam], the hands of the Muslims who are with us are stained and polluted with the blood of their ancestors from among the inhabitants of Bosnia at that time, namely those who did not embrace Islam” (Norris 1993: 297-98). Although some take the story of Lazar and Sultan as a myth, yet it has great impact on the religious life of the Serbs. During the civil war of Bosnia, the Serbs destroyed the historical mosques, religious literature and manuscripts and other ancient texts of Muslims placed in libraries. It clearly showed that it was a kind of religious war and the Serbs were moved into the war in the name of religion.
Bosnia’s war was the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind. Tens of thousands of innocent people were killed, tortured, raped and displaced from their home country. Whether it was a political or religious war, it shouldn’t have happened. Whether it broke out in the name of nationalism or the age old enmity, it should have been avoided. It was a failure of the West, European Union, the United Nations rather the whole international community was responsible for the massacre of the Bosnian Muslims. After the peace agreement between the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims in 1996 with the help of UN and other European countries, some part of the Serb dominated Bosnia was given to Serbia. It leaves the impression to the world that genocide does help. The massacres and the killing of innocent people give something back in return. The war of Bosnia was a global disaster and the UN should do more to prevent these kinds of atrocious crimes in future. 
 Written BY: Jawad Karim ( LUMS )

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