“A war between crazy people, between monsters”

Seventeen years ago, on April 6th, 1992 the longest siege in modern warfare began on the day the European Commission recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state.  The siege – and near constant shellings, mortar attacks and sniper hits – lasted 43 months.

The BosniakAmerican Advisory Council released a statement today, saying:

The Siege of Sarajevo not only marked the start of the war of aggression, but also the beginning of genocide and ethnic cleansing throughout B-H [Bosnia and Herzegovina].

Kurt Schork wrote this heartbreaking snapshot of the devastation in 1993:

Two lovers lie dead on the banks of Sarajevo’s Miljacka river, locked in a final embrace.

For four days they have sprawled near Vrbana bridge in a wasteland of shell-blasted rubble, downed tree branches and dangling power lines.

So dangerous is the area no one has dared recover their bodies.

Bosko Brckic and Admira Ismic, both 25, were shot dead on Wednesday trying to escape the besieged Bosnian capital for Serbia.

Sweethearts since high school, he was a Serb and she was a Moslem.

“They were shot at the same time, but he fell instantly and she was still alive,” recounts Dino, a soldier who saw the couple trying to cross from government territory to rebel Serb positions.

“She crawled over and hugged him and they died like that, in each other’s arms.” […]

The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), charged with providing humanitarian assistance in Sarajevo, maintains the bodies are a local issue.

“I’m an auto mechanic and I know a lot of people in this city,” says the girl’s father. “Everyone is washing their hands in this case, Bosnians and Serbs alike.” […]

Frantic to retrieve the bodies, Admira’s parents are bewildered by unresponsive Bosnian and Serb bureaucracies, and by UNPROFOR’s hands-off policy.

Zijah Ismic claims he begged UNPROFOR to let him drive one of its armoured pesonnel carriers in to get his daughter.

He says the U.N. told him armour-piercing rounds from machine-guns and cannon around Vrbana bridge would go through the vehicle.

“Love took them to their deaths,” Ismic says of Bosko and Admira.

“That’s proof this is not a war between Serbs and Moslems. It’s a war between crazy people, between monsters. That’s why their bodies are still out there.”

In a country mad for war, Bosko and Admira were crazy for each other.

Bosko and Admira weren’t the only civilians targeted by snipers.  According to a UN report, “In many cases snipers with a clear view from high rise buildings and the surrounding hillsides have targeted the most vulnerable of civilians, including: children (even infants); persons carrying heavy plastic containers filled with water; persons in queues; pedestrians at intersections; and rescuers attempting to come to the aid of sniping and shelling victims.”

During the four years of the siege, Sarajevo was hit by 64,490 shells, totaling an average of approximately 329 shell impacts on the city per day.  On February 5, 1994 a single shell fired at Sarajevo’s Markale market killed 68 people and wounded more than 100. On February 29, 1996 the siege was finally lifted.

For visual representation of the siege, check out this fascinating, hand-drawn map of the siege from FAMA International and Tom Stoddard’s photos.  Hollywood’s take is Welcome to Sarajevo. The novel Pretty Birds by NPR’s Scott Simon, who reported from Bosnia during the war, and the memoir Zlata’s Diary bring readers into the tension and brutality of the siege.

To learn more: Report of the UN Commission of Experts, BBC, New York Times.

Photos of a “beware of the sniper” sign at the Bosnian National Museum in Sarajevo and of children playing near a “Sarajevo Rose” (a wax-filled mortar impact site that serve as memorials to those killed there were) taken by my dad.

About Martha Heinemann Bixby

Advocacy. Politics. Life. Martha Heinemann Bixby.
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