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A Brief History of Bosnia-Herzegovina

A Brief History of Bosnia-Herzegovina

by Andras Riedlmayer, Harvard University

András J. Riedlmayer
Photo: András J. Riedlmayer
András J. Riedlmayer
Harvard UniversityT


19,741 sq. mi. / 51,130 sq. km (about the size of West Virginia; 1/4 larger than Switzerland). Picturesque mountain scenery (Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics), much of it covered by forests; some coal and minerals, no oil. Bosnia’s traditional borders, established in the medieval period, are: the Sava River (in the N), the Drina River (E/SE), and the Dinaric Alps (in the W). Herzegovina (”the Duchy”) is the historical name for the country’s southwestern region (around the town of Mostar). Located in the heart of Europe (as the crow flies, Sarajevo is closer to Rome than Milan is).


In 1991 Bosnia was home to 4,365,000 people (twice as many as live in West Virginia; 1/3 fewer than Switzerland); its largest city was Sarajevo (pop. 526,000). Much of Bosnia’s population is urban and (until April 1992) was employed in manufacturing, mining, technology and service industries. It is (or was) a modern, industrialized European country with respectable educational and health-care statistics. Almost all (over 95%) of the people speak the same language (called Bosnian or Serbo-Croatian), and come of the same European racial stock, descended from Slavic tribes that settled in the area in the early Middle Ages. The people of Bosnia are traditionally called Bosnians. For reasons having to do with recent history (and as much with 20th-century ideologies as with traditional religious allegiances), Bosnians whose ancestors were of the Catholic faith are now identified as Bosnian Croats (17%), while those of Eastern Orthodox background are now identified as Bosnian Serbs (31%). The largest group of the Bosnian population, however, are the Muslim Slavs (44% in the 1991 census), descendants of Christian Bosnians who accepted Islam some 500 years ago.

Until the late 19th century, people of all three faiths identified themselves simply as Bosnians. Most Bosnians today are in fact highly secularized, and about a third of all urban marriages in Bosnia in recent decades have been between partners from different religious/ethnic backgrounds. While there were some villages in the countryside where one group or the other predominated, Bosnia’s towns and cities have traditionally been the shared home of people from all ethnic and religious groups. The latter include Jews, who found a haven in the tolerant city of Sarajevo in 1492, following their expulsion from Spain. Unlike Jews in Venice and elsewhere in Europe, Sarajevo’s Jews were not confined to a ghetto. The city’s principal mosques, its synagogues and Christian churches are all located in close proximity to each other, a visible sign of the intermingled public and private lives of its ethnic and religious communities.


Medieval Bosnia (ca. 1200-1463)

Like the rest of the Mediterranean region, Bosnia was part of the Roman Empire during the first centuries of the Christian era. After the fall of Rome, the area of Bosnia was contested between Byzantium and Rome’s successors in the West. By the 7th century AD, Bosnia was settled by Slavs, who formed a number of counties and duchies. The 9th century saw the establishment of two neighboring kingdoms: Serbia (southeast of Bosnia), and Croatia (in the west). In the 11th-12th centuries, Bosnia was governed by local nobles under the authority of the Kings of Hungary (the large kingdom to the north, which had also taken over neighboring Croatia).

Around 1200 A.D., Bosnia fought for and gained its independence. To retain it, the Bosnians had to fend off not only the Hungarians, but also their powerful neighbor to the east, the Kingdom of Serbia. The independent medieval Kingdom of Bosnia endured for more than 260 years (somewhat longer than the United States has thus far). Its population was entirely Christian, but in a tolerant environment unusual for the Middle Ages there was not one Christian church but three. While most Bosnians were Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy and a schismatic local Bosnian Church also had adherents. All three churches were organizationally weak, their clergy largely uneducated, and none could count on steady and exclusive state patronage (these factors later contributed to the decision by a large part of the Bosnian people to abandon Christianity for Islam).

In the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks (an Islamic state originating in Asia Minor) embarked upon their conquest of the Balkans. By 1389 Serbia had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Turks (at the famous battle of Kosovo) and had been reduced to the status of an Ottoman vassal. Through skillful maneuvering between its more powerful neighbors, Bosnia managed to retain its independence until 1463, when it also succumbed to the Turks.

Bosnia’s Ottoman Centuries (1463-1878)

The conquering Ottoman armies marched on towards Vienna, and in the century that followed, many Bosnians (for both spiritual and social reasons) dropped their allegiance to the weak and disorganized Christian churches and adopted the triumphant faith of the Islamic conquerors. The spread of Islam was aided by itinerant Muslim popular preachers, who taught a fairly broad-minded and inclusive form of Islam that allowed Bosnians to adapt their old traditions to the new faith. The Ottoman sultans and their local governors embellished Bosnia’s towns and cities with splendid mosques and established pious endowments that supported schools, Islamic seminaries, libraries, orphanages, soup-kitchens and almshouses. Many Muslim Bosnians rose to join the ranks of the Ottoman ruling elite as soldiers, statesmen, Islamic jurists and scholars; not a few attained the highest posts in the Empire. Within Bosnia, a distinctive Bosnian Muslim culture took form, with its own architecture, literature, social customs and folklore.

There were also Bosnians caught up in the spiritual ferment of the 1400s and 1500s who did not choose Islam; some switched allegiances between Catholicism and Orthodoxy (the schismatic Bosnian Church soon faded away), some emigrated, and there were also immigrants from other parts of the Balkans. The Ottomans were tolerant of the non-Muslim minorities, allowing them full freedom to worship, live and trade as they pleased. At the same time, non-Muslims were subject to higher tax-rates and most civil and military offices of the Empire were reserved for Muslims.

For more than 400 years Bosnia retained a distinct identity as the Eyalet of Bosna, a key province of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. A native aristocracy of Bosnian Muslim notables ruled the province in all but name, ready to defend their autonomy by force of arms, if need be, against any efforts to curtail it. Thus Bosnia shared both in the Empire’s days of prosperity and glory and in the decline that ensued in the 18th century. As the Ottoman Empire’s borders began to recede, Muslim Slavs who had been driven out of the lost provinces found a refuge in Bosnia, reinforcing the already large Muslim element within its multi-ethnic population.

Bosnia’s Ottoman centuries came to an abrupt end in 1878, when the Great Powers of Europe met in Berlin to decide what to do about the Ottoman Empire. Eyed hungrily by these same powers (as an object of colonial conquest), the Ottoman Empire by this time seemed ripe for the fall. Unable to pay its financial obligations, it was threatened both by internal civil disorder and by the aggressive designs of its neighbors. What saved the Ottoman Empire from disintegration for another forty years (until the end of World War I) was the inability of the Great Powers to agree on a division of the spoils. A compromise was reached at Berlin, according to which Ottoman finances were entrusted to an international commission composed of the creditors, while the Empire’s borders were, for the moment, to be left largely intact. There were to be some exceptions: Bosnia-Herzegovina was to be administered by Austria-Hungary (which had felt left out in the race for colonies); the island of Cyprus was assigned to Britain (which insisted it needed it to protect the Suez Canal); and, after 500 years of Ottoman rule, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria were given full independence (at Russia’s insistence).

Bosnia Enters the 20th Century (1878-1918)

The newly installed Austro-Hungarian administration in Bosnia was determined to turn it into a showcase “model colony.” Railroads and industries were developed with state subsidies; new schools, public buildings, parks and other icons of modernity were to symbolize the benefits of the new regime. There was a building-boom in Sarajevo and little intellectual circles began to discuss up-to-date European ideologies in the coffeehouses. Among these new ideologies, alas, was nationalism, that bastard offspring of 19th-century Romanticism and social Darwinism.

The nationalist dream of a great South Slav state united under the leadership of Orthodox Serbia was eagerly promoted from across the border (by Serbian agents covertly financed by imperial Russia, the self-appointed “guardian of all Eastern Orthodox peoples”). The Muslim Slavs saw no place for themselves in this proposed new order and continued to advocate the old Bosnian ideal of a pluralist, multi-confessional society; for obvious reasons the latter was also the orientation favored by the Austro-Hungarian authorities. Some Bosnian Muslims emigrated to Turkey and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, fleeing Austrian military conscription and a politically uncertain future. Most stayed, however, taking advantage of the educational and economic opportunities brought in by the new rulers, and their community grew more modern and prosperous as it entered the 20th century. Serbian nationalists, meanwhile, were plotting to overthrow Austro-Hungarian rule not only in Bosnia, but also in the neighboring South Slavic lands of Croatia and Slovenia. The Austro-Hungarian government’s decision to formally annex Bosnia-Herzegovina (in 1908-1909) added to the nationalists’ sense of urgency.

In the summer of 1914, a Serb nationalist youth named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne during a state visit to Sarajevo. The ensuing World War killed millions throughout Europe. Among the casualties were many Bosnians drafted to fight in the Austro-Hungarian army (and some who fought for the Serbian army), but the city of Sarajevo itself and most of Bosnia somehow, miraculously, escaped becoming a battleground in this first World War.

Interwar Yugoslavia (1918-1941)

When the Great War ended in 1918 more than half of Serbia’s military-age male population was dead, wounded or missing in battle, but the nationalists had realized their dream: Serbia’s ruler was crowned King of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, of the newly-created greater South Slav state that before long was renamed Yugoslavia. As the original name indicates, there was to be no special provision made for people who considered themselves neither Serbs nor Croats, and in the interwar years Bosnia’s Muslim Slavs were pressured to register themselves as one or the other. Insofar as the Muslims counted on the political scene, it was as a football between Serb and Croat nationalist ambitions.

In the 1920s and ’30s, as the Yugoslav regime became increasingly dictatorial and centralist, even those non-Serbs who had initially welcomed its arrival had reason to resent it. Especially bitter were the Croats, who had enjoyed considerable autonomy under the Austro-Hungarian regime and thought they would be equal partners with the Serbs in the new state. A turning point came in 1928, when the popular Croat Peasant Party leader Stjepan Radich was shot to death on the floor of the Belgrade parliament by a Serbian radical deputy. In a royal coup the following year, the parliament was dissolved and the constitution suspended; internal borders were redrawn to efface historical territorial units (such as Croatia and Bosnia); the newly-formed provinces were placed under the rule of iron-fisted military governors sent from Belgrade. Some Croats succumbed to the lure of anti-Serb extremist organizations, including the fascist Ustasha movement, supported by Italy. When Yugoslavia’s king was assassinated by an anti-Serb extremist during a state visit to France, a new crackdown followed. Unresolved social and economic issues, combined with the local effects of the global economic depression of the 1930s, also helped to gain adherents for extremist groups of the right and the left, including the small Yugoslav Communist Party.

The Second World War (1941-1945)

Hitler invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the king fled abroad, and the country was parceled out between Nazi Germany’s allies and local clients. The northernmost strip (Slovenia) was annexed to the Greater German Reich; most of the Adriatic coastline of Croatia was assigned to Fascist Italy; Macedonia in the south was given to Germany’s ally Bulgaria. What remained was divided up between the Nazi puppet-state of Croatia (compensated for the losses on the coast by being granted all of Bosnia) and a German-appointed regime in Serbia, headed by a former royal Yugoslav general named Milan Nedich.

The fascist regime in occupied Croatia, under Ustasha leader Ante Pavelich, undertook to ethnically “cleanse” the areas it controlled by the murder of large numbers of Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, as well as Croat political opponents, sent to their deaths in camps such as Jasenovac, southeast of Zagreb. Many thousands of Serbs were forced to “become” Croats by signing loyalty oaths and converting to Roman Catholicism. Bosnian Muslims were considered as “Muslim Croats” in the Ustasha ideology, and for the time being they were largely spared in this round of killing. Although Bosnian Muslim religious and political leaders spoke out publicly against the regime’s program of ethnic and religious persecution, some Muslims also joined in the slaughter as part of a short-lived all-Muslim SS division established in 1943 under German command.

Meanwhile in occupied Serbia a similar campaign was carried on under General Nedich, who operated concentration camps for Jews, non-Serbs, and his Serb political opponents on behalf of his German overlords. The first experiments in mass executions of camp inmates by poison gas were carried out in Serbia, which became the first Nazi satellite in occupied Europe to declare itself “Judenrein” (”cleansed” of Jews). Gen. Nedich’s Serbian militia forces, which played a key role in this task, outnumbered both German security forces and resistance fighters within the wartime borders of Serbia.

Many Serbs who despised Gen. Nedich for his readyness to serve the Germans joined a Serbian nationalist resistance movement, popularly called the “Chetniks” and headed by another royal Yugoslav army officer, Col. Drazha Mihailovich. Though initially supplied by British airdrops, Mihailovich soon stopped fighting the Germans as it became clear that every resistance attack on a German soldier or unit would be followed by savage reprisals against the Serbian civilian population. Thereafter there was little anti-German guerrilla activity within Serbia proper, as the Chetniks turned their attention to “safer” targets more in line with their nationalist ideology, which envisioned an ethnically pure Greater Serbia.

“Cleansed” of all non-Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, and traitors to the cause, this pure Serbia of the future was to extend beyond Serbia’s current borders to embrace all of Bosnia-Herzegovina and much of Croatia. In pursuit of this vision, Mihailovich’s Chetniks launched their own “ethnic cleansing” campaign in Bosnia, aimed at “undoing” the work of the Ustasha by killing off Croats and Muslim Slavs in order to tilt the ethnic balance in favor of the Serbs. Bosnia became a killing ground, as bands of Serbian Chetniks, the Croatian Ustasha, local militias, German and Italian occupation troops and the Communist Partisans vied with each other in terrorizing various segments of the civilian population. (Half a century later, the Chetnik vision of a purified Greater Serbia has been resurrected by Serb nationalists; the main street in the sector of Sarajevo under the control of nationalist forces was recently renamed Drazha Mihailovich Street, in tribute to the memory of the Chetnik leader and his ideology.)

Meanwhile the Yugoslav Communists, led by Josip Broz Tito, had organized their own multi-ethnic resistance group, which took up the fight against the Nazis as well as against the Chetniks, General Nedich, the Ustasha, and against anyone else who did not support their call for total armed struggle. Tito’s Partisans, who fought their bloodiest battles in the mountainous terrain of central Bosnia and coastal Croatia, did not care that their attacks would provoke the Germans into killing off whole villages in reprisal. They knew that an embittered populace would then have no choice but to join the Partisans if they wanted to revenge themselves on the hated occupiers. Any who hesitated to join would soon be convinced by other means, including equally brutal Partisan reprisals against collaborators and other “enemies of the people.” In battling the Communist Partisans, the Chetniks were drawn into compromising alliances with local Italian and the German occupation forces, while Tito’s guerrillas gained a reputation for effectiveness in tying down Axis troops. As a result, in early 1944 the Allies withdrew their support from the Chetniks and began to airdrop supplies to the Partisans.

The Cold War and Communist Yugoslavia (1945-1990)

Thanks both to their ruthless tactics and to a now continuous flow of Allied military aid, Tito’s Communist Partisans emerged at the end of the war as the undisputed masters of Yugoslavia. They marked their victory with mass executions of tens of thousands of Croat and Slovene militiamen who had surrendered to them at the conclusion of hostilities. Tito awarded himself the title of Marshal and ruled Yugoslavia as a one-party dictatorship for 35 years until his death.

Because Tito broke with Stalin soon after the end of World War II, he became a beneficiary of the Cold War, receiving economic and military assistance as well as diplomatic backing from the West. While Tito was one of the founding members of the international non-aligned movement and remained a staunch proponent of his own brand of Communism, it was economic and military aid supplied by the West that enabled him to build the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) into the fourth largest military force in Europe. When rumors of Tito’s impending death in the 1970s sparked fears of Soviet intervention, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared that the United States viewed Yugoslavia as vital to its national interest and would risk nuclear war in its defense.

In Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia overt manifestations of nationalism were proscribed and severe limits were imposed on religion, since both were seen as rivals to the official ideology. The country was reconstituted along federal lines: Bosnia-Herzegovina, restored within her pre-1918 borders, became one of six constituent republics (the others were Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia). In the Tito era, for the first time since World War I, Bosnian Muslims received official recognition of their separate identity (i.e. they were no longer forced to declare themselves as Serbs or Croats). Bosnia and its people had suffered terribly during the war, but the city of Sarajevo had once again emerged physically unscathed; it became the center of a cultural and economic revival. Although development in Bosnia lagged behind the levels attained by the more prosperous republics, in the decades following the end of the war Bosnia was transformed from a largely agricultural backwater into a modern, industrialized society.

Public worship and religiously-based customs were discouraged or banned outright under Tito’s rule (this affected Islam as severely as it did the Christian denominations), but there was fairly broad freedom of cultural expression, as long as it did not appear to pose a political threat. In the early 1970s there was an economic boom, fueled in large part by money borrowed from abroad, and much of the country enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity (the claim that Serbia did not get as much of a share of this prosperity as certain other republics later became a theme of the Serbian nationalists’ politics of resentment).

All of this began to unravel after Tito’s death in 1980. Yugoslavia was ruled for the next decade by a committee composed of the presidents of the six republics and two autonomous regions, with members taking turns as federal president. The economic boom had also come apart, the foreign loans that had financed the prosperity of the early 70s dried up, and rivalries among the republics ensued as they began to compete for pieces of an ever-shrinking federal pie. In theory, ethnic tensions had been overcome by socialist internationalism, but in practice national groups had long been played off against each other by the regime. While local Communist party leaders in each federal republic were given control of political affairs and patronage, ethnic Serbs were allowed to dominate the JNA officers’ corps as well as key positions in state enterprises.

By the end of the 1980s, Communism as an ideology and state system was coming undone throughout the entire region. Nationalism was resurrected to fill the ideological void, as each of Yugoslavia’s member republics sought to make its own way. The collapse of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War also heralded the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—a structure built by Tito but kept going in large part by his success in exploiting Cold-War rivalries. In the first multi-party elections, held in 1990, the Communist Party carried only Serbia and Montenegro; in all the other republics, parties calling for greater autonomy from Belgrade or outright independence won large majorities.

The Disintegration of Yugoslavia (1986-1992)

The dissolution of federal Yugoslavia was hastened by the rise to power of Slobodan Miloshevich as president of the Serbian Republic and his embrace of an extreme Serb nationalist agenda. That agenda calls for a solution of the “national question” by the creation of a Greater Serbia, uniting all Serbs in a single state; in 1986 it was endorsed by the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. The following year, Miloshevich and his hard-line faction gained power within the Serbian League of Communists, in large part by playing the nationalist card—appealing to the Serbian sense of grievance at having been deprived of a leadership role in Tito’s Yugoslavia and at being outstripped by some other republics economically. He demanded that the more prosperous republics (Slovenia and Croatia) take on a greater share of the costs of the federal budget and called upon them to defer to Serbian leadership. His denunciations of Croat and Slovene efforts to liberalize the economy and to privatize state enterprises struck a chord among workers anxious about rising unemployment and other uncertainties of life in the twilight of the Communist era. By the end of 1987, Miloshevich was speaking of scrapping the federal constitution and the collective presidency altogether, calling for a new, recentralized Yugoslavia, united under a single strong hand.

In 1989, seizing upon the patriotic fervor surrounding a historic anniversary, Miloshevich initiated a crackdown on Serbia’s ethnic Albanians, who form the majority (90%) of the population in the country’s southern autonomous province of Kosovo. Kosovo was the seat of a Serbian kingdom in the Middle Ages and the site of the famous battle, fought in 1389, that ended medieval Serbia’s independence and began its centuries of subjection to the Islamic Ottoman Empire. In the romantic imagery of Serbian nationalism, Kosovo represents both Serbia’s past greatness and its humiliation at the hands of Muslims.

The continued presence of a large and politically assertive Muslim Albanian population in Kosovo is perceived as an intolerable affront to this nationalist vision of Serbia. In 1990 Miloshevich issued decrees abolishing the autonomous status of all of the Serbian Republic’s minority regions and severely curbing the educational and political rights of ethnic minorities. The autonomous regions’ seats in the Yugoslav collective presidency were retained, however, and were packed with Miloshevich’s own appointees. Non-Serbs throughout Yugoslavia watched these developments with growing unease, unwilling to become either tools or targets of his policies

By the summer of 1991 Slovenia, the most prosperous and Westernized republic, decided it had had enough of Miloshevich’s attempts to seize control of the federal presidency. When Miloshevich tried to block the Croatian member of the collective presidency from taking his turn at the federal helm, the Slovenes issued an ultimatum. As the deadline passed without a response from Belgrade, the Slovene parliament declared for independence (in theory, the right of each republic to secede was guaranteed under Tito’s federal constitution). In Belgrade the Serbs responded with outrage and the Yugoslav federal army (with a 70% Serb officer corps) was called upon to intervene to stop Slovenia from seceding.

The army was unprepared for such a mission and the Slovenes, using public relations as much as derring-do, managed to inflict a series of humiliations on their vastly more powerful adversary (including sending captured JNA conscripts home on trains headed for Belgrade, clad only in their underwear). Following a brief struggle, Slovenia achieved its independence and JNA troops were evacuated to bases in neighboring Croatia. Since there is no Serb minority within Slovenia, this humiliating turn of events did not as yet seriously impinge on the Serb nationalist dream of a Greater Serbia. The same was not true in the case of the other republics.

Croatia, which is home to a sizeable Serb minority population, declared its independence on the same day as Slovenia. Following a tense period of skirmishes and negotiations between the Croatian government, representatives of Serb nationalist parties within Croatia and the Serbian-dominated federal authorities, talks broke down just as the conflict in Slovenia next door was coming to an end. The Yugoslav army launched a full-scale offensive against Croatia from its bases in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in coordination with militias that had been formed by Serb nationalists (supplied and armed by the JNA) within Croatia.

Savage fighting ensued, marked by the Serbian forces’ deliberate targeting of civilians and of cultural landmarks (including the brutal siege of the medieval port city of of Dubrovnik and the total destruction of the town of Vukovar, a jewel of Baroque architecture). Battles continued until the end of the year, when the UN brokered a cease-fire that left nearly a third of Croatia’s territory under the control of Serbian forces. This fighting bore all the features that later characterized the conflict in Bosnia, including the forcible expulsion of civilian populations from conquered areas, known as “ethnic cleansing.”

Within Serbia, Miloshevich catered to nationalist sentiment by further tightening restrictions on minorities and instituting a reign of terror against the Albanians in Kosovo. Ultra-nationalist Serb paramilitary groups were given free rein, and there were calls to “cleanse” all non-Serbs from the Serbian lands. 185,000 Albanians in Kosovo were dismissed from their jobs in the state-controlled economy; the non-Serb population was subjected to a new round of random assaults, killings and mass arrests. The hard-pressed Albanians responded to this policy with nonviolent resistance, organizing a civil disobedience campaign and declaring for independence in an underground referendum, held at the beginning of 1992.

Bosnian Independence and the Assault on Bosnia (1992-?)

Following international recognition of Croatian and Slovene independence (January 1992) and news that Macedonia’s secession was imminent, the elected government of Bosnia-Herzegovina found itself faced with an impossible choice. The prospect of remaining part of a rump Yugoslavia dominated by Miloshevich was clearly unacceptable to the majority of Bosnia’s population, while Bosnian independence was anathema to Serb nationalists both within Bosnia and in Serbia.

A plebiscite on independence was held in Bosnia-Herzegovina in late February 1992. The Serb nationalist party threatened violence and called for a boycott, but participation was high and in an optimistic mood 70% of Bosnian voters (including many Bosnian Serbs) turned out to cast their votes for independence. Despite the fierce rhetoric of Serb nationalism, most Bosnians could simply not imagine that the horrors of World War II would be revisited on their country, whose citizens had lived with each other in tolerance for most of the previous 500 years.

On April 5, 1992, following the declaration of independence by Bosnia’s parliament, there was a mass demonstration by citizens of Sarajevo, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, calling for peace among Bosnia’s three major communities. Yugoslav National Army snipers and Serb nationalist militants hidden on surrounding rooftops opened fire on the crowd, killing and wounding scores of unarmed citizens. The following day, JNA units began to shell Sarajevo from prepared positions on the hillsides overlooking the city and columns of troops and tanks crossed the Drina River from Serbia into eastern Bosnia. Initially armed only with police sidearms and hunting rifles, later with captured and smuggled weapons, Bosnians tried to defend their newly independent country against the onslaught of the Serb nationalist forces unleashed by Miloshevich.

By April 7, 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s independence had been officially recognized by the United States and by most European countries. On May 22, 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina was admitted as a full member of the United Nations. But an arms embargo, imposed on all of the former Yugoslavia by the UN (in 1991, at the request of the Belgrade government, and since then maintained at the insistence of the US and its Western European allies), has in effect barred the internationally recognized Bosnian government from acquiring the means to exercise its right to self-defense, guaranteed under the UN Charter:

“Nothing in this present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
[United Nations Charter, Article 51]

Meanwhile Miloshevich and Serb nationalist forces in Bosnia have at their disposal the resources of the Yugoslav National Army, including the fourth largest arsenal in Cold-War Europe. They have used these weapons to lethal effect in their assault on Bosnia’s cities, towns and villages. Over a million people have been bombed and driven from their homes, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded. Serb nationalist forces have overrun 70% of Bosnia’s territory, “cleansing” conquered areas by driving out or killing the non-Serb inhabitants.

Among the methods of “ethnic cleansing” employed by the Serb forces are the selective killing of the non-Serb community’s civic, religious and intellectual leaders, the confinement of all males of military age in concentration camps, and the use of mass rapes as a weapon of terror and abasement. The dwindling number of non-Serb inhabitants remaining in the zones under Serb control have been barred from employment in the public sector and are required to display white flags on their places of residence. Denied police protection by the nationalist authorities, non-Serbs (Muslims, Croats, Gypsies, and Jews) remaining in Banja Luka and other occupied Bosnian towns have been subjected to vicious attacks, including robbery, murder and rape, carried out with impunity in broad daylight. The nationalists have also enacted antimiscegenation statutes that make it a crime for a non-Serb to marry or engage in sexual relations with a Serb.

Nationalist extremists are also trying to wipe out any physical evidence that could remind future generations that people other than Serbs ever lived together in peace in Bosnia. Historic mosques, churches, and synagogues as well as national libraries, archives, and museums have been torched, dynamited and bulldozed throughout the areas under assault by nationalist forces. The practitioners of “ethnic cleansing” are not content to terrorize and kill the living; they want to eliminate the memory of the past as well.

Amidst the surrounding carnage, many Bosnians of all backgrounds continue to cling to the ideal of coexistence. There are an estimated 55,000 Bosnian Serbs among the 380,000 citizens of Sarajevo who still remain in a city that has thus far endured more than a year of unremitting Serb bombardment and a harsh winter under siege. Although Muslim Slavs constitute a majority among the over two million people crowded into the areas still under the control of Bosnia’s internationally recognized government, both its civil administration and its army have remained multi-ethnic in composition. Bosnia’s vice-president and the deputy commander of the Bosnian armed forces are both Bosnian Serbs. Citizens of Serb and Croat background continue to live, work and worship in Sarajevo, Tuzla and other towns under the Bosnian government’s control and—while the miseries of war and the flood of refugees into these enclaves have exacerbated social tensions—there is no officially sanctioned ethnic or religious discrimination.

Sought out, encouraged and given legitimacy by European diplomats in search of the “Croat faction,” in the spring of 1993 Croat nationalists began their own “ethnic cleansing” campaign in an effort to carve an all-Croat “homeland” out of Herzegovina. Indications are (at this writing) that the Croats and the Serbs may be on the verge of a deal to carve up Bosnia between them, perhaps with a small area around Sarajevo left as a reservation for surviving Bosnian Muslims and for any other Bosnians unwilling to reside in ethnically pure states.

Meanwhile, initiatives to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia’s government and calls for forceful international intervention to end the conflict have been continually blocked in the UN and in other international forums. Calls for cease-fires and for a stop to the atrocities have gone unheeded in the absence of any meaningful measures to enforce them. The governments of Russia, the United States and its European allies appear to have concluded, for the present, that conceding to the Serb nationalists the full fruits of their aggression will be less trouble—at least in the short run—than assuming the political risks that any intervention might entail. Permitting the Bosnians access to arms, in this analysis, would merely allow them to resist a speedy and convenient solution to the conflict.

The United States and NATO, which only twenty years ago were ready to risk a nuclear confrontation over Yugoslavia, now view its descent into genocide and chaos with detachment, unwilling to step in and anxious only to keep the mayhem from spilling over into areas of more immediate concern. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has stated that, since the conflict in Bosnia “does not affect our vital national interests,” America will not intervene. Great Britain, France and our other European allies have stated their disinterest in intervening in even stronger terms. Russia and China, anxious not to create precedents for humanitarian intervention closer to home, have done their best to avert concerted action in the UN. Stopping genocide is, it would appear, not among the political imperatives of the New World Order.

In anticipation of the coming flood of Bosnian refugees, ministers of Western European countries held a meeting at the beginning of June 1993 to coordinate tighter restrictions on asylum and immigration. The siege of the city of Sarajevo (suffering the scars of battle for the first time in 300 years), and the uneven struggle between the two visions of Bosnia, one multi-ethnic and inclusive, the other “purely” Serb and exclusive, continues to this day.

Andras J. Riedlmayer
Harvard University, Summer 1993

Rebirth of a national name and consciousness a

Rebirth of a national name and consciousness among Bosniaks

The generally accepted definition (and the one used in this article) holds that Bosniaks are the Slavic Muslims on the territory of the former Yugoslavia who identify themselves with Bosnia and Herzegovina as their ethnic state and are part of such a common nation. However, individuals may hold their own personal interpretations as well. For instance, some, such as prominent Bosniak intellectuals Muhamed Filipović and Adil Zulfikarpašić, hold the view that all Bosnians, including Catholics and Orthodox Christians, were Bosniaks regardless of religion, but assimilated into Croats and Serbs influenced by national movements in Croatia and Serbia in the second half of the 19th century.[9] Some others, such as Montenegrin Abdul Kurpejović, recognize an Islamic component in the Bosniak identity but see it as referring exclusively to Slavic Muslims in Bosnia.[9] Still others consider all Slavic Muslims in the former Yugoslavia (i.e. including the Gorani) to be Bosniaks. [10]

In Serb-dominated Yugoslavia unlike the preceding Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosniaks were not allowed to declare themselves as Bosniaks. As a compromise, the Constitution of Yugoslavia was amended in 1968 to list Muslims by nationality recognizing a nation, but not the Bosniak name. The Yugoslav “Muslim by nationality” policy was considered by Bosniaks to be neglecting and opposing their Bosnian identity because the term tried to describe Bosniaks as a religious group not an ethnic one. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, most people who used to declare as Muslims began to declare themselves as Bosniaks. In September 1993, the Second Bosniak Congress (Bosnian: Drugi bošnjački sabor) officially re-introduced the historical ethnic name Bosniaks instead of the previously used Muslim in former Yugoslavia. [8] Today, the election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognizes the results from 1991 population census as results referring to Bosniaks.

In other countires with significant Bosniak populations that constituted former Yugoslavia it is not the case. The effects of this phenomenon can best be seen in the censuses. For instance, the 2003 Montenegrin census recorded 48,184 people who registered as Bosniaks and 28,714 who registered as Muslim by nationality. Although Montenegro’s Slavic Muslims form one ethnic community with a shared culture and history, this community is divided on whether to register as Bosniaks (i.e. adopt Bosniak national identity) or as Muslims by nationality.[9] Similarly, the 2002 Slovenian census recorded 8,062 people who registered as Bosnians, presumably highlighting (in large part) the decision of many secular Bosniaks to primarily identify themselves in that way (a situation somewhat comparable to the Yugoslav option during the socialist period). That said, it is important to note that such people represent a minority (even in countries such as Montenegro where it is a significant issue), and that the great majority of Slavic Muslims in the former Yugoslavia have adopted the Bosniak national name.


Main article: History of Bosniaks

The earliest (genetic) roots of the Bosniak people can be traced back to the ancient populations that expanded into the Balkans following the Last Glacial Maximum 21 thousand years ago.[5] Indeed, recent studies have indicated that the dominant Y-chromosome haplogroup found in Bosnian Bosniaks is I - and specifically its sub-haplogroup I-P37 - which are associated with these paleolithic settlers.[5] In the 13th century BCE,[11] the old European cultures that developed from them were overrun and assimilated by the Illyrians, the earliest inhabitants of the region of whom we have any historical detail.[12] They would remain the dominant group in the west Balkans until the Roman conquest of the area in 9 CE, which led to the arrival of Latin-speaking settlers and the Romanization of the native population.

The earliest cultural and linguistic roots of Bosniak history, however, can be traced back to the Migration Period of the Early Middle Ages. It was then that the Slavs, a people from northeastern Europe, invaded the Eastern Roman Empire with their Avar overlords and settled in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and the surrounding lands. The Serbs and Croats came in a second wave, invited by Emperor Heraclius to drive the Avars from Dalmatia. As a distinct political entity, Bosnia presumably originated sometime during the Dark Ages with the collapse of the traditional tribal social structure and advent of feudalism.[12]

The name of the country was probably derived from Illyrian language and established by ancient Illyrian tribes who inhabited the lands surrounding Bosnia’s central river - Illyrian: Bosona (Bosnian: Bosna); a testament to the significant influence of Illyrian element and heritage on the region.[8]

Slavs settled in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the surrounding lands, which were then part of the Eastern Roman Empire, in the seventh century. The Slavic Serbs and Croats settled sometime after the first wave of Slavs. The Croats established a kingdom in what is northwestern Croatia. The Serbs settled in what is now southcentral Serbia. The Slavic Bosnians established the first form of a state between Croatia and Serbia in ninth century under the rule of local bans with the strong Bosnian Church, an indigenous Christian sect considered heretical by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The High Middle Ages political circumstance led to the area being contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. After some centuries of rule by the Byzantine Empire, an independent Bosnian kingdom flourished in central Bosnia between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.[12]

Regarding the subject of ethnicity in medieval Bosnia, despite the fact that this complex and sensitive subject has been obscured by nationalism and propaganda through the ages, there is no sign that the population of pre-Ottoman Bosnia and Herzegovina, in whichever social stratum, had developed Croatian or Serbian ethnic consciousness even in a medieval sense of the word. To quote Noel Malcolm from the book “Bosnia A Short History”:

As for the question of whether the inhabitants of Bosnia were really Croat or really Serb in 1180, it cannot be answered, for two reasons: first, because we lack evidence, and secondly, because the question lacks meaning. We can say that the majority of the Bosnian territory (in 1180) was probably occupied by Croats - or at least, by Slavs under Croat rule - in the seventh century; but that is a tribal label which has little or no meaning five centuries later. The Bosnians were generally closer to the Croats in their religious and political history; but to apply the modern notion of Croat identity (something constructed in recent centuries out of religion, history, and language) to anyone in this period would be an anachronism. All that one can sensibly say about the ethnic identity of the Bosnians is this: they were the Slavs who lived in Bosnia.

Religion proved to be the determining factor in the later development of national consciousness, and was more pertinent than any original ‘tribal heritage’ from centuries earlier. The lack of Bosnian medieval identity can, most likely, be explained by the fact earlier mentioned, the lack of any single, dominant religious denomination within Bosnia. Whilst it’s Bishoprics were under Rome’s jurisdiction, there was a large following of its local/native Bosnian Church - a form of Christianity with a connection, little known of, to Bogomilism. The Bosnian Church declared to be faithful to Rome but practiced in Slavic liturgy with eastern type Monasticism. Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and local Bosnian Church following each predominated in certain areas, but neither was overriding. This combined with the lack of centralised rule which plagued Bosnia’s Ban-Kings further re-inforced particularism. Upon the Ottoman’s invasion of Europe, large numbers of Bosnians converted to Islam. It is historically thought that the Bosnian Muslims were mainly Bosnian Church adherents, but according to some evidence a number Catholic and Orthodox adherents also converted to Islam. There was a three-way split of the population in religious terms. This was cemented by the Ottoman system, whose rule separated people along religious, not ethnic lines- the Millet system. With slow the decay of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of nation-state nationalism in Europe, the Bosnians who were Catholic eventually identified with the Croatian nation, whilst those that were Orthodox identified with the Serbian nation, giving rise to what we now call ‘Bosnian Croats” and “Bosnian Serbs”. The Islamic Bosnians continued to put their religion at the forefront of their identity, and thus did not align with the early-modern Serbian or Croatian nationality. They were, by neighbouring Serbs and Croats referred to simply as Bosnian Muslims - or even pejoratively “Turks” (in the light of a few centuries genereted hatred toward Ottoman Turks). Bosniaks have recently, at the dawn of their independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, re-introduced the old name Bosniaks.[8]



Millennium Ancient Bosnian tomb (stecci)

Millennium Ancient Bosnian tomb (stecci)

Millennium Ancient Bosnian tomb. Note the Bosnian lily motif on top of the monument.

Millennium Ancient Bosnian tomb. Note the Bosnian lily motif on top of the monument.

Liberation of Jajce in WWII - Ismet Mujezinović

Liberation of Jajce in WWII - Ismet Mujezinović

14th century Bosnian king Tvrtko Kotromanic with the Bosnian lily on his Crown

14th century Bosnian king Tvrtko Kotromanic with the Bosnian lily on his Crown

18th century Bosniaks on a day trip to mount Vranduk at the Bosna river, Painting by Carl Ebert.

18th century Bosniaks on a day trip to mount Vranduk at the Bosna river, Painting by Carl Ebert.

The tomb of Gazi Husrev-beg.

The tomb of Gazi Husrev-beg.

Old flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the flag of medieval Bosnia, a national symbol for Bosniaks

Old flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the flag of medieval Bosnia, a national symbol for Bosniaks

Bosnian medieval queen Katarina Kosača-Kotromanić with the Bosnian fleur-de-lys on her royal crown, as can be see on the traditional Bosnian flag above

Bosnian medieval queen Katarina Kosača-Kotromanić with the Bosnian fleur-de-lys on her royal crown, as can be see on the traditional Bosnian flag above

Bosniak folklore has a long tradition dating back to the 15th century. Like many other elements of Bosniak culture, their folklore is a mix of Slavic and Oriental influences, typically taking place prior to the 19th century.

Two popular characters seen often in Bosniak folklore are the trickster and the Hero. Probably the most famous example of the first is that of Nasrudin Hodža, where local folklore has him taking part in various episodes in a Bosnian setting. Other tricksters include an old wise man in the legend behind the old Orthodox church in Mostar. Supposedly, a local official demanded that the church be built on land no bigger than an animal hide. The wise man then cut the hide into thin strips and laying them end to end was able to demarcate enough land to build a reasonably sized church.

National heroes are typically historical figures, whose life and skill in battle are emphasised. These include figures such as Gazi Husrev-beg, the second Ottoman governor of Bosnia who conquered many territories in Dalmatia, Northern Bosnia, and Croatia, and Gerz Eljaz Đerzelez Alija, an almost mythic character who even the Ottoman Sultan was said to have called “A Hero”.

Old Slavic influences can also be seen. Ban Kulin has acquired legendary status. “Even today,” wrote the historian William Miller in 1921 “the people regard him as a favorite of the fairies, and his reign as a golden age.” Characters such as fairies, Vila, are also present. Pre-Slavic influences are far less common but nonetheless present. Certain elements of Illyrian, and Celtic belief have been found.

Generally, folklore also varies from region to region and city to city. Cities like Sarajevo and Mostar have a rich tradition all by themselves. Many man-made structures such as bridges and fountains, as well as natural sites, play a significant role as well.


Bosniaks speak the Bosnian language. This language only has minor differences with the Serbian language or Croatian language in writing and grammar, but its speakers are, on the level of colloquial idiom, more linguistically homogeneous than either Serbs or Croats. The Bosnian language has a number of orientalisms as well as germanisms not often used in the neighboring languages.

Bosniaks have also had two of their own unique scripts. The first was the Begovica (also called Bosančica), a descendant of local Cyrillic script that remained in use among the region’s nobility. The second was the Arabica, a version of the Arabic alphabet modified for Bosnian that was in use among nearly all literate Bosniaks until the 20th century (compare with Morisco Aljamiado). Both alphabets have almost died out, as the number of people literate in them today is undoubtedly minuscule.

[edit] Religion

Most Bosniaks are Muslim, but some number of them are Atheist, Agnostic and Deist. This is due to the secular humanist world view that was prevalent during the times of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, in Bosnia-Herzegovina most Bosniaks belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, although historically Sufism has also played a significant role in the country.

 Surnames and names

Bosniak surnames, as is typical among the South Slavs, often end with “ić” or “ović”. This is a patronymic which basically translates to “son of” in English and plays the same role as “son” in English surnames such as Johnson or Wilson. What comes prior to this can often tell a lot about the history of a certain family.

Most Bosniak surnames follow a familiar pattern dating from the period of time that surnames in Bosnia and Herzegovina were standardized. Some Bosniak Muslim names have the name of the founder of the family first, followed by an oriental profession or title, and ending with ić. Examples of this include Izetbegović (Son of Izet bey), and Hadžiosmanović (”son of Osman Hajji“). Other variations of this pattern can include surnames that only mention the name, such as Osmanović (”son of Osman”), and surnames that only mention profession, such as Imamović (”son of the Imam“).

Some Bosniak names have nothing oriental about them, but end in ić. These names have probably stayed the same since medieval times, and typically come from old Bosnian nobility, or come from the last wave of converts to Islam. Examples of such names include Tvrtković and Kulenović.

Yet some Bosniaks have surnames that do not end in ić at all. These surnames are typically derived from place of origin, occupations, or various others such factors in the family’s history. Examples of such surnames include Zlatar (”goldsmith”), Fočo or Tuco.

Many Bosniak national names are of foreign origin, indicating that the founder of the family came from a place outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many such Bosniak surnames have Hungarian, Vlach or Turkish origins. Examples of such surnames include Vlasić and Arapović.

Many Bosniak surnames are also common as Croatian and Serbian surnames which are likely to have been the names these families had before conversion to Islam examples include: Puškar, Sučić, Subašić, Begić, Hadžić

First names among Bosniaks have mostly Arabic, Turkish, or Persian roots, similar to the way that many English names have Hebrew, Latin, and Greek origins despite it being a Germanic language. South Slavic names such as “Zlatan” are also popular primarily among non-religious Bosniaks. What is notable however is that due to the structure of the Bosnian language, many of the oriental names have been altered to create uniquely Bosniak names. Some of the Arabic names have been shortened.

The most famous example of this is that of the stereotypical Bosniak characters Mujo and Suljo, whose names are actually Bosniak short forms of Mustafa and Suleyman. More popular still is the transformation of names that in Arabic or Turkish are confined to one gender to apply to the other sex. In Bosnian, simply taking away the letter “a” changes the traditionally feminine “Jasmina” into the popular male name “Jasmin”. Similarly, adding an “a” to the typically male “Mahir” results in the feminine “Mahira”.


Bosniaks have a wide number of historical symbols that are associated with them. Traditional Bosniak colors are green, white, yellow, and blue. The two best known Bosniak national symbols are the crescent moon and the Lillium Bosniacum.

The earliest Bosniak symbol from medieval times and the old flag of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the flag of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina are very popular symbols among Bosniaks. They were founded by king Tvrtko Kotromanić. It was supposed to represent the entire country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the flag was not officially accepted by the Serb and Croat leadership, which led to the flag being traditionally associated with Bosniaks. Some Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs today venerate the flag (see Bosnians).

The earliest Bosniak flags date from the Ottoman era, and are typically a white crescent moon and star on a green background. The flag was also the symbol of the short lived independent Bosnia in the 19th century and of the resistance against the Turks led by Husein Gradaščević. The flag of the Bosniak Islamic Union is same as the flag just mentioned and is also a traditional flag of Bosniaks.

Some Bosniak organizations combine the two, adopting symbols with a crescent moon where a Lillium Bosniacum (a fleur-de-lis) replaces the traditional star. Other variations of combining the two exist. A notable one is the seal of the Bosniaks in Sandžak, which is based on the old Bosnian flag but changes one half of the seal so that instead of yellow lillies on a blue background there are yellow crescent moons on a green background.

Traditions and customs

The nation takes pride in the melancholic folk songs sevdalinka, the precious medieval filigree manufactured by old Sarajevo craftsmen, and a wide array of traditional wisdoms that are carried down to newer generations by word of mouth, and in recent years written down in numerous books. Another prevalent tradition is “Mustuluk”, whereby a gift is owed to any bringer of good news.

[edit] Important dates to Bosniaks

 Bosniaks today

Today, a national consciousness is found in the vast majority of Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the country, Bosniaks make up a large majority in the Bosna river valley and western Bosnian Krajina, with significant populations found in Herzegovina. Currently, they are estimated to make up 52-55% of the total population. With no official census however, its impossible to know for sure.

National consciousness has also spread to most Bosniaks in the neighboring countries. The largest number of Bosniaks outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina are found in Serbia and Montenegro (specifically in the Sandžak region). The city of Novi Pazar is home to the largest Bosniak population outside of Bosnia.

Another 40,000 Bosniaks are found in Croatia and 38,000 in Slovenia. However, some of them still identify themselves as “Muslims” or “Bosnians”, according to latest estimates. In Macedonia there are estimated to be about 17,000 Bosniaks.

Due to warfare and ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a large part of the world’s 2.6+ million (est.) Bosniaks are found in countries outside of the Balkans. The highest Bosniak populations outside of the ex-Yugoslavian states are found in the United States, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and Turkey. Prior generations of Bosniak immigrants to some of these countries have by now been mostly integrated.

Regarding the Western countries most of the Bosniaks are war refugees that only arrived in these countries during the past 15 years or so. They still speak Bosnian, and maintain a cultural and religious community and visit their mother country regularly.

The United States is home to about 130,000 (est.) Bosniaks, the cities with the highest Bosniak populations are St. Louis and Chicago. The following major American cities, ordered randomly, have notable Bosniak communities: Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Portland, Oregon, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tampa, Florida and New York City.

In the United States there are also significant Bosniak communities in the following places, in no specific order: Lawrenceville, Georgia, Utica, New York, Hamtramck, Michigan, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Erie, Pennsylvania, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hartford, Louisville, Lynnwood, Washington, Northbrook, Illinois, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Clearwater, Florida, and Manchester, New Hampshire. These places do not have as many Bosniaks as those mentioned before but the Bosniaks in these cities make up a considerably larger percentage of the total population.

In Canada, the Bosniak communities of Toronto, Vancouver and Hamilton are notable.

In Turkey Bosniaks are mostly live in the Marmara Region which is in other words the north-west Turkey. The biggest Bosniak community in Turkey is in Istanbul and also there are notable Bosniak communities in Izmir, Edirne, and Bursa.

The highest number of Bosniak immigrants and people descending of Bosniaks are found in Turkey. Today, it is generally accepted that approximately 350,000 Turks descend directly from Bosniaks who immigrated to Turkey mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[citation needed]

Documents recently found by Turkish historians, however, indicate that Turks having direct and indirect Bosniak ancestry, number as high as 1.5 million.[citation needed]

It is believed that many aspects of Bosniak identity were lost among these people due to Turkish assimilation laws in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Bosniak immigrants to Turkey were required to change their names to Turkish or Turkish sounding ones(under the Law on Family names). As a consequence of this, today some Turks do have somewhat Slavic sounding surnames. However some also have entirely Slavic surnames, the most common one probably being “Kiliç” spelled in Turkish as compared to the Bosnian version which is spelled “Kilić”.

Croat-Bosniak war history

The Croat-Bosniak war was a conflict between self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia supported by Republic of Croatia and Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina lasted from June 20, 1992February 23, 1994. The ICTY effectively determined the war's nature to be international between Croatia and Bosnian and Herzegovina in numerous verdicts against Croat political and military leaders.[1] The Croat-Bosniak war is often referred to as the war in a war because it was part of the larger War in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. [2] The ruling party in the Republic of Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), organized and controlled the branch of the party in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By the latter part of 1991, the more extreme elements of the party, under the leadership of Mate Boban, Dario Kordić, Jadranko Prlić, Ignac Koštroman and local leaders such as Anto Valenta[2], and with the support of Franjo Tuđman and Gojko Šušak, had taken effective control of the party.

Following the declaration of independence, the Serbs attacked different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The state administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively ceased to function having lost control over the entire territory. The Croats and their leader Franjo Tuđman also aimed at securing parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Croatian. Secret discussions between Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević on the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina were held as early as March 1991 known as Karađorđevo agreement. The policies of the Republic of Croatia and its leader Franjo Tuđman towards Bosnia and Herzegovina were never totally transparent and always included Franjo Tuđman’s ultimate aim of expanding Croatia’s borders. [3]

On November 18, 1991, the party branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina, proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate "political, cultural, economic and territorial whole," on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. [4]

The ICTY illustrated this with the minutes of a meeting held on November 12, 1991 and signed by Mate Boban and Dario Kordić: "the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina must finally embrace a determined and active policy which will realise our eternal dream – a common Croatian state". On April 10, 1992, Mate Boban decreed that the Bosnian Territorial Defence (TO), which had been created the day before, was illegal on self-proclaimed Croat territory. On May 11, Tihomir Blaškić declared the TO illegal on the territory of the Kiseljak municipality.[2]

Gornji Vakuf and Novi Travnik were initially attacked by Croats on June 20, 1992, but the attack failed. The Graz agreement caused deep division inside the Croat community and strengthened the separation group, which led to the conflict with Bosniaks. One of the primary pro-union Croat leaders, Blaž Kraljević (leader of the HOS armed group) was killed by HVO soldiers in August 1992, which severely weakened the moderate group who hoped to keep the Bosnian Croat alliance alive[5].

War breaks out

On January 8, 1993 the Serbs killed the deputy prime minister of Bosnia Hakija Turajlić after stopping the UN convoy which was taking him from the airport. On May 15-16 96% of Serbs voted to reject the Vance-Owen plan. After the failure of the Vance-Owen peace plan, which practically intended to divide the country into three ethnic parts, an armed conflict sprung between Bosniaks and Croats over the 30 percent of Bosnia they held. The peace plan was one of the factors leading to the escalation of the conflict, as Lord Owen avoided moderate Croat authorities (pro-unified Bosnia) and negotiated directly with more extreme elements (which were for separation).[6]

Much of 1993 was dominated by the Croat-Bosniak war that became more serious in October 1992 when Croat forces attacked Bosniak civilian population in Prozor burning their homes and killing civilians. On January 1993 Croat forces attacked Gornji Vakuf again in order to connect Herzegovina with Central Bosnia.[4]

The Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosniak civilians planned by the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia's political and military leadership from May 1992 to March 1993 and erupting the following April, was meant to implement objectives set forth by Croat nationalists in November of 1991.[2] The Lašva Valley's Bosniaks were subjected to persecution on political, racial and religious grounds[7], deliberately discriminated against in the context of a widespread attack on the region's civilian population[8] and suffered mass murder, rape, imprisonment in camps, as well as the destruction of cultural sites and private property. This was often followed by anti-Bosniak propaganda, particularly in the municipalities of Vitez, Busovača, Novi Travnik and Kiseljak.

The Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia took control of many municipal governments and services in Herzegovina as well, removing or marginalising local Bosniak leaders. Herzeg-Bosnia took control of the media and imposed Croatian ideas and propaganda. Croatian symbols and currency were introduced, and Croatian curricula and the Croatian language were introduced in schools. Many Bosniaks and Serbs were removed from positions in government and private business; humanitarian aid was managed and distributed to the Bosniaks' and Serbs' disadvantage; and Bosniaks in general were increasingly harassed. Many of them were deported into concentration camps: Heliodrom, Dretelj, Gabela, Vojno and Šunje.

Up till 1993 the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) had been fighting side by side against the superior forces of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) in some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even though armed confrontation and events like the Totic kidnappings strained the relationship between the HVO and ARBiH the Croat-Bosniak alliance held in Bihać pocket (northwest Bosnia) and the Bosanska Posavina (north), where both were heavily outmatched by Serb forces.

Mostar was also surrounded by the Croat forces for nine months, and much of its historic city was severely destroyed in shelling including the famous Stari Most bridge.

Bosnian Army launched an operation known as Neretva 93 against the Croatian Defence Council and Croatian Army in September 1993 in order to end the siege of Mostar and to recapture areas of Herzegovina, which were included in self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. The operation was stopped by Bosnian authorities after it received the information about the incidents against Croat civilians and POWs in villages of Grabovica and Uzdol.

The entire conflict caused the creation of more ethnic enclaves and further bloodshed in the, already war-ruined, Bosnia. The conflict was particularly devastating for Mostar and Gornji Vakuf.

War ends

The Croat-Bosniak war officially ended on February 23, 1994 when the Commander of HVO, general Ante Roso and commander of Bosnian Army, general Rasim Delić, signed a ceasefire agreement in Zagreb. In March 1994 a peace agreement mediated by the USA between the warring Croats (represented by Republic of Croatia) and Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was signed in Washington and Vienna which is known as the Washington Agreement. Under the agreement, the combined territory held by the Croat and Bosnian government forces was divided into ten autonomous cantons, establishing the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Croat leadership (Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić and Berislav Pušić) is presently on trial at the ICTY on charges including crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and violations of the laws or customs of war. Dario Kordić, political leader of Croats in Central Bosnia was convicted of the crimes against humanity in Central Bosnia i.e. ethnic cleansing and sentenced to 25 years in prison. [9] Bosnian commander Sefer Halilović was charged with one count of violation of the laws and customs of war on the basis of superior criminal responsibility of the incidents during Neretva 93 and found not guilty.

The Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing, also known as the Lašva Valley case, refers to numerous war crimes committed during the Bosnian war by the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia's political and military leadership on Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) civilians in the Lašva Valley region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The campaign, planned from May 1992 to March 1993 and erupting the following April, was meant to implement objectives set forth by Croat nationalists in November of 1991.[1] The Lašva Valley's Bosniaks were subjected to persecution on political, racial and religious grounds[2], deliberately discriminated against in the context of a widespread attack on the region's civilian population[3] and suffered mass murder, rape, imprisonment in camps, as well as the destruction of cultural sites and private property. This was often followed by anti-Bosniak propaganda, particularly in the municipalities of Vitez, Busovača, Novi Travnik and Kiseljak.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has ruled that these crimes amounted to crimes against humanity in numerous verdicts against Croat political and military leaders and soldiers, most notably Dario Kordić. [4] Based on the evidence of numerous HVO attacks at that time, the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded in the Kordić and Čerkez case that by April 1993 Croat leadership had a common design or plan conceived and executed to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley. Dario Kordić, as the local political leader, was found to be the planner and instigator of this plan. [5] Further concluding that the Croatian Army was involved in the campaign, the ICTY defined the events as an international conflict between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.[6]

According to the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center (IDC), around 2,000 Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley are missing or were killed during this period.[7] The events inspired the British television drama serial Warriors.

During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. [1] The ruling party in the Republic of Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), organized and controlled the branch of the party in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By the latter part of 1991, the more extreme elements of the party, under the leadership of Mate Boban, Dario Kordić, Jadranko Prlić, Ignac Koštroman and local leaders such as Anto Valenta[1], and with the support of Franjo Tuđman and Gojko Šušak, had taken effective control of the party. On November 18, 1991, the party branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina, proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate "political, cultural, economic and territorial whole," on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. [8]

The ICTY illustrated this with the minutes of a meeting held on November 12, 1991 and signed by Mate Boban and Dario Kordić: "the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina must finally embrace a determined and active policy which will realise our eternal dream – a common Croatian state". On April 10, 1992, Mate Boban decreed that the Bosnian Territorial Defence (TO), which had been created the day before, was illegal on self-proclaimed Croat territory. On May 11, Tihomir Blaškić declared the TO illegal on the territory of the Kiseljak municipality.[1]


During 1992, the Bosniak authorities and civilians of Vitez, Busovača and Kiseljak were regularly discriminated against. Conditions became so onerous for Bosniak civilians that many of them decided to leave the area and move to municipalities where they would be in the majority. Those who nevertheless chose to remain in those municipalities had to accept that they would be subject to persecution by a political and military regime increasingly hostile to them. The first destruction of mosques and Bosniak homes, the first murders of civilians, and the first acts of pillage occurred at this time. [9]


In April 1992, the leader of the HDZ in Vitez, Anto Valenta, told the municipality's Bosniak representatives that they should take their orders from the self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia. On May 20, 1992, an Bosnian Army soldier was killed in front of the Vitez Hotel while two others were captured and beaten. In June 1992, Croat military formations took over the headquarters in Vitez and the Municipal Assembly building and raised the flags of Herzeg-Bosnia and of Croatia. Later, in November 1992, the municipality introduced new taxes and asked members of staff to sign a declaration of allegiance to the new Croat Government, threatening those that did not obey with dismissal. Many Bosniaks were refused access to public institutions because they had refused to sign the declaration and they were unable to get the laissez-passer necessary to drive on the roads that the Croat forces had taken over. [10]


The same practice was also carried out in Busovača. On May 10, 1992, Dario Kordić and Ivo Brnada decided to revoke the arms distribution agreement which had been concluded with the Bosnian Territorial Defence, seize all weapons, and take control of the barracks. They then issued an ultimatum to all Bosnian military units calling on them to surrender their weapons and to place themselves under Croat command. By a decree dated May 22, 1992, Dario Kordić and Florian Glavočević proceeded to give the HVO general administrative powers over the municipality. After those two decrees had been adopted, Bosnian state organs were abolished and Bosniaks were progressively excluded from local political structures. Croat forces also seized the television broadcasting station at Skradno and created its own local radio and television to carry propaganda, seized the public institutions, raised the Croatian flag over public institution buildings, and imposed the Croatian Dinar as the unit of currency. During this time, Busovača's Bosniaks were forced to sign an act of allegiance to the Croat authorities, fell victim to numerous attacks on shops and businesses and, gradually, left the area out of fear that they would be the victims of mass crimes.[11]


As in the municipalities of Vitez and Busovača, a similar pattern was applied in Kiseljak from April to November of 1992, demonstrating the Croat authorities' resolve to take political and military control of the Kiseljak municipality. The authorities created a radio station which broadcast nationalist propaganda. General Blaškić expelled the Bosnian Territorial Defence from the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) buildings on May 14, 1992. [12]

Ethnic cleansing

In June 1992, the focus switched to Novi Travnik where Croat efforts to gain control were met with resistance. On June 18, 1992 the Bosnian government forces in Novi Travnik received an ultimatum from the HVO which included demands to abolish existing government institutions, pledge allegiance to a newly established Croat authority, subordinate Bosnian forces to the HVO and expel Bosniak refugees - all within 24 hours. On June 19, 1992 armed conflict broke out. The fighting lasted two hours and the headquarters of the Bosnian Territorial Defence, the elementary school and the post office were attacked and damaged by local Croat units, including units from Vitez and Busovača. [13] Bosniaks in the lower part of the town were subjected to killings, rape and other mistreatment. [14]

During August 1992, the Croat forces launched attacks on the villages of Duhri, Potkraj, Radanovići and Topole and these attacks involved more violent incidents, including the setting of Bosniak homes on fire and vandalising their businesses. Many civilians who feared future attacks started to leave the Kiseljak enclave at this time.[12]

The ICTY Trial Chamber in the Kordić and Čerkez case decided that the weight of the evidence points clearly to the persecution of Bosniak civilians in the Central Bosnian municipalities taken over by the Croat forces: Busovača, Novi Travnik, Vareš, Kiseljak, Vitez, Kreševo and Žepče. The persecution followed a consistent pattern in each municipality and demonstrated that the HVO had launched a campaign against the Bosniaks in them [15] with the hope that the self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia should secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina and with a view towards unification with Croatia. [16]

By December 1992, the situation in Central Bosnia was this: the Croat forces had taken control of the municipalities of the Lašva Valley and had only met significant opposition in Novi Travnik and Ahmići. Much of Central Bosnia therefore was in the hands of the Croats.[17]

Gornji Vakuf shelling

Gornji Vakuf is a town to the south of the Lašva Valley and of strategic importance at a crossroads en route to Central Bosnia. It is 48 kilometres from Novi Travnik and about one hour’s drive from Vitez in an armoured vehicle. For Croats it was a very important connection between the Lašva Valley and Herzegovina, two territories included in the self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia. [18]

On January 10, 1993, just before the outbreak of hostilities in Gornji Vakuf, the HVO commander Luka Šekerija, sent a "Military – Top Secret" request to Colonel Blaškić and Dario Kordić for rounds of mortar shells available at the ammunition factory in Vitez. [19] Fighting then broke out in Gornji Vakuf on January 11, 1993, sparked by a bomb which had been placed by Croats in a Bosniak-owned hotel that had been used as a military headquarters. A general outbreak of fighting followed and there was heavy shelling of the town that night by Croat artillery. [18]

During cease-fire negotiations at the Britbat HQ in Gornji Vakuf, colonel Andrić, representing the HVO, demanded that the Bosnian forces lay down their arms and accept HVO control of the town, threatening that if they did not agree he would flatten Gornji Vakuf to the ground. [18] [20] The HVO demands were not accepted by the Bosnian Army and the attack continued, followed by massacres on Bosnian Muslim civilians in the neighbouring villages of Bistrica, Uzričje, Duša, Ždrimci and Hrasnica.[21] [22]Although Croats often cited it as a major reason for the attack on Gornji Vakuf, the commander of the British Britbat company claimed that there were no Muslim holy worriors in Gornji Vakuf (commonly known as Mujahideen) and that his soldiers did not see any. [18]

Busovača massacre

On the morning of January 25, 1993, Croat forces attacked the Bosniak part of the town of Busovača called Kadića Strana following the January 20 ultimatum. The attack included shelling from the surrounding hills. A loudspeaker called on Bosniaks to surrender. A police report shows that 43 people were massacred in Busovača in January and February 1993. The remaining Bosniaks (around 90 in all) were rounded up in the town square. Women and children (around 20 in total) were allowed to return home and the men (70 in all), some as young as 14-16 years, were loaded onto buses and taken to Kaonik camp. The violence continued after the January attack. [23]

Ahmići massacre

Main article: Ahmići massacre

Ahmići massacre was the culmination of the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing. It is the biggest massacre committed during the conflict between Croats and the Bosnian government.

The attack began at 05:30 hours on April 16, 1993. The Croat Defence Council (HVO) shelled the Bosniak part of Ahmići and moved in killing many Bosniaks, including women, children and the elderly. They destroyed a large number of Bosniak homes, and caused extensive damage to the village's two mosques. An estimate puts the death toll at 120. The youngest was a three-month-old baby, who was machine-gunned to death in his crib, and the oldest was a 96-year-old woman.


On April 3, 1993, the Croat leadership met in Mostar to discuss the implementation of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan. The Croats decided to implement the creation of "Croatian Provinces" (Provinces 3, 8 and 10) placing the Bosnian armed forces under the command of the General Staff of the HVO. On April 4, according to Reuters, the HVO HQ in Mostar set a deadline for President Izetbegović to sign the above agreement and stated: If Izetbegović fails to sign this agreement by April 15, the HVO will unilaterally enforce its jurisdiction in cantons three, eight and ten. In a message from Kordić, Ignac Koštroman and Anto Valenta, the Croat people were told to display more Croatian flags on buildings. [24]

An organized attack

On Friday, April 16, 1993 at 05:30 hours, Croatian forces simultaneously attacked Vitez, Stari Vitez, Ahmići, Nadioci, Šantici, Pirići, Novaci, Putiš and Donja Večeriska. General Blaškić spoke of 20 to 22 sites of simultaneous combat all along the road linking Travnik, Vitez and Busovača. The ICTY Trial Chamber found that this was a planned attack against the Bosniak civilian population. [25] The attack was preceded by several political declarations announcing that a conflict between Croatian forces and Bosnian forces was imminent. On the day of the attack, telephone lines had been cut because all communication exchanges in the municipality of Vitez were under HVO control.

Croat inhabitants of those villages were warned of the attack and some of them were involved in preparing it. Croat women and children had been evacuated on the eve of the fighting. The method of attack displayed a high level of preparation. The attacks in the built-up areas, such as those carried out in the Ahmići area were operations planned in minute detail with the aim of killing or driving out the Bosniak population, resulting in a massacre. On the evening of April 15, unusual HVO troop movements had been noticed. On the morning of April 16, the main roads were blocked by Croat troops. According to several international observers, the attack occurred from three sides and was designed to force the fleeing population towards the south where elite marksmen with particularly sophisticated weapons shot those escaping. Other troops, organised in small groups of about five to ten soldiers, went from house to house setting them on fire and killing the residents. Around one hundred soldiers who took part in the operation. [26] The attack resulted in the massacre of the Bosniak villagers and the destruction of the village. Among the more than 100 who died were 32 women and 11 boys and girls under the age of 18. The aim of the HVO artillery was to support the infantry and destroy structures which the infantry couldn't. The mosque, for example, was hit by a shot from a powerful weapon. Later the minaret was blown up by Bralo and Jukić. [27]

Murders of civilians

Most of the men were shot at point blank range. Some men had been rounded up and then killed by Croatian soldiers. Twenty or so civilians were also killed in Donji Ahmići as they tried to flee the village. The fleeing inhabitants had to cross an open field before getting to the main road. About twenty bodies of people killed by very precise shots were found in the field. Military experts concluded that they had been shot by marksmen. Other bodies were found in the houses so badly charred they could not be identified and in positions suggesting that they had been burned alive. The victims included many women and children. [28]

An ECMM observer said he had seen the bodies of children who, from their position, seemed to have died in agony in the flames: "some of the houses were absolute scenes of horror, because not only were the people dead, but there were those who were burned and obviously some had been burned with flame launchers, which had charred the bodies and this was the case of several of the bodies". According to the ECMM report, at least 103 people were killed during the attack on Ahmići. [28]

Destruction of property

According to the Centre for Human Rights in Zenica, 180 of the existing 200 Bosniak houses in Ahmići were burned during the attack. The Commission on Human Rights made the same finding in its report dated May 19, 1993. According to the ECMM practically all the Bosnian Muslim houses in the villages of Ahmići, Nadioci, Pirići, Sivrino Selo, Gaćice, Gomionica, Gromiljak and Rotilj had been burned. According to ECMM observer "it was a whole area that was burning". [29] Several religious buildings were destroyed. Two mosques were deliberately mined and given the careful placement of the explosives inside the buildings. Furthermore, the mosque in Donji Ahmići was destroyed by explosives laid around the base of its minaret.[30]

The troops involved

The troops involved in the attack included the Military Police Fourth Battalion and, in particular, the Džokeri Unit. The Džokeri (Jokers), an anti-terrorist squad with twenty or so members, were created in January 1993 from within the Military Police on the order of Zvonko Voković, whose mission was to carry out special assignments such as sabotage, stationed at the bungalow in Nadioci. Other participants included the Vitezovi, the Viteška brigade of the municipality of Vitez, the Nikola Šubić Zrinski brigade of Busovača, together with Domobrani units (units set up in each village in accordance with a decision from Mostar dated February 8, 1993) stationed at Ahmići, Šantići, Pirići and Nadioci. Many witnesses in the Blaškić case also referred to soldiers in camouflage uniforms being present, wearing the emblem of the Croatian Army. Several Croat inhabitants of these villages also participated in the attack. They were members of the Domobrani such as Slavko Miličević for the Donji Ahmići sector, Žarko Papić for the Zume area, Branko Perković in Nadioci, Zoran Kupreškić in Grabovi (an area in the centre of Ahmići), Nenad Šantić and Colic in Šantići. [31]


After the massacre, Croat leaders, supported by propaganda efforts, tried to deny the massacre or to blame other sides in the Bosnian War. Dario Kordić denied to Payam Akhavan, an investigator with the United Nations Centre for Human Rights, that the HVO were involved in the Ahmići massacre; indeed, he said that his men, as good Christians, would never commit such acts and blamed the Serbs or the Muslims themselves: according to him, no investigation was necessary. A similar response was given by general Tihomir Blaškić to British Colonel Stewart in Kordić’s presence.[27]

Vitez massacre

In the early morning of April 16, 1993 at about 5:45 to 6:00 a.m. Bosniak areas of Vitez and Krušćica were attacked by Croat artillery, which increased during the morning and included mortar fire of various calibre. It was the first coordinated offensive in the area with attacks happening simultaneously up and down the valley. According to professional military opinion of a British colonel, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been taken by surprise. HVO soldiers in camouflage uniforms entered the streets of Vitez, arresting Bosniaks and killing them in their apartments. The prominent Bosniaks of the town were arrested. Anto Breljaš, a former member of the Vitezovi Unit, said that the Viteška Brigade of HVO and the Vitezovi attacked Stari Vitez but the Vitezovi did not take part in the Ahmići massacre as a unit, although one or two individuals may have done so. [32]

The two villages of Donja Večeriska and Gornja Večeriska near Vitez were attacked on April 16, 1993. On the night of April 15, 1993, most Croats left Donja Večeriska. Nonetheless, an attack was not expected by Bosniaks since the Croats had evacuated the village several times before. The shelling started at 5:30 a.m. with an anti-aircraft gun shooting from the factory nearby. Grenades were thrown into the houses and the residents and others were then arrested and beaten. The majority of Bosniak houses were burned. At least eight persons were killed in the attack and the village was destroyed by explosives and fire.[32]

In all, 172 Bosniaks in the Vitez municipality were killed and 5,000 expelled, (1,200 having been detained): 420 buildings were destroyed, together with three mosques, two Muslim seminaries and two schools.[32]

Stari Vitez terrorist attack

The fighting in Vitez continued after April 16, 1993. The old town of Stari Vitez (or Mahala as it called) remained in Bosnian government hands. However, the HVO surrounded it and subjected it to siege and attack from April 1993 to February 1994. The period was characterized by confrontations of varying intensity, in particular by a violent attack on July 18, 1993 when a great many homemade weapons known as "baby bombs" were fired on Stari Vitez and killed many Bosniaks. That quarter of the town was also targeted by multi-tube rocket-launchers and mortars.[33] [34]

On April 18, 1993 a tanker containing 500 kilograms of explosives exploded near the mosque in Stari Vitez, destroying the offices of the Bosnian War Presidency, killing at least six people and injuring 50 others. The ICTY accepted that this action was a piece of pure terrorism committed by elements within the Croat forces, as an attack on the Bosniak population of Stari Vitez. [33] [34]

Busovača villages

The villages of Lončari, Merdani and Putiš are in the area to the east of Ahmići and north of Busovača. After the attacks on the villages in January 1993, a significant number of the civilian population went to Zenica but, over the weeks and months that followed, many of them moved back. The villages were then attacked by the HVO in April. The nearby village of Putiš had been attacked on April 15. In the afternoon of April 16, 1993 masked Croat soldiers attacked the village of Očehnići by firing incendiary bullets into the houses. Within half an hour all the Bosniak houses were burning. The villagers were unarmed and did not put up any resistance. According to witnesses, Paško Ljubičić, later accused of war crimes by ICTY, was the leader of the unit that had attacked the village and that he had been ordered to do so by brigadier Duško Grubešić, commander of the Zrinski Brigade of HVO, to cleanse Muslims from the area. Around twenty men from Lončari were detained and taken to Kaonik on April 16, 1993. Upon arrival they were lined up and their valuables were stolen by HVO soldiers.[35]

Kiseljak villages

On April 18, 1993, the Bosniak villages of the Kiseljak municipality came under attack. The background to the attacks was an order by colonel Tihomir Blaškić to an HVO brigade to capture two of the villages where all enemy forces were to be placed under HVO command. The villages of Gomionica, Svinjarevo and Behrići (which were all close to each other and connected by the main road) were attacked by the HVO, together with Rotilj, Gromiljak, Polje Višnjica and other Bosniak villages in this part of the Kiseljak municipality. The Bosniak population of these villages was either killed or expelled, houses and mosques were set on fire and, in Svinjarevo and Gomionica, houses were plundered. In the case of Rotilj the Bosnian Territorial Defence forces (TO) were asked to surrender their guns before the HVO shelled the village. As a result the lower part of the village was set on fire, twenty houses or barns were destroyed and seven civilians were killed. [36]

The HVO launched its attack on the village of Svinjarevo by firing 60, 80 and 120 millimetre mortars and anti-aircraft weapons. As soon as the shelling stopped, soldiers from the Bosnian Territorial Defence organised the evacuation of about 200 civilians from the village. The HVO infantry entered Svinjarevo and the neighbouring villages of Rauševac, Puriševo, Japojrevo and Jehovac, torched several houses belonging to Bosnian Muslims and killed ten civilians. The soldiers also took civilians to the Kiseljak barracks where they were imprisoned for several weeks. The attacks carried on until April 23, 1993.[37]

When ECMM Monitors visited the villages they found almost all the Bosnian Muslims had left, their houses had been burned and they concluded that ethnic cleansing had taken place in the area. The ICTY found that Dario Kordić was involved in these attacks in a municipality about 25 kilometers from Busovača. The attacks occurred two days after the attacks on the Bosniak villages of the Lašva Valley and were part of the pattern of attacks on the Bosnian Muslims of Central Bosnia. Blaškić would not have launched the attacks without political approval which meant the approval of the local leadership in the person of Dario Kordić.[36]

Zenica massacre

The ICTY accepted that the market place in Zenica was shelled by HVO on April 19 1993 from the village of Putičevo, 15 kilometres from Zenica, killing 15 people and injuring another 50. The shells landed in three groups of two, at 12:10 p.m., 12:24 p.m. and 12:29 p.m. Two pieces of artillery were used: D-30 J Howitzers which are hand-loaded and which have a slow rate of fire. It was a professional piece of artillery work with the fire being adjusted by an observer. Two Danish members of the ECMM, visited the scene shortly after the shelling and took photographs. These photographs show scenes of devastation in the market area, bodies lying on the ground, destroyed cars, a demolished bus shelter and damaged buildings. Croats blamed Serbs for the massacre, but ICTY discarded such claims during Dario Kordić trial.[38]


On April 18, Tihomir Blaškić ordered Stjepan Tuka, a moderate HVO officer and commander in Fojnica, to attack Dusina. Tuka, however, did not carry out the order as he hoped for an agreement and followed a policy of compromise in Fojnica where peace had been maintained. The result was his dismissal, despite protests from the local HVO and other organizations. [39]

On April 19 the ECMM reported a sharp deterioration of the situation in Central Bosnia, a possible explanation being the suspected aim of the Croats to take over the territory of the two provinces while the world’s attention was focused on Srebrenica. On April 20, Gaćice, a village to the south-east of Stari Vitez, was attacked by the HVO and soon after that the duty officer of the Viteška Brigade reported that the "village of Gaćice has been 70 per cent done" and would probably be under control by the end of the day.[39]

Under the chairmanship of the ECMM, on April 21 1993 negotiations took place between the Croatian Defence Council and Bosnian Army with the aim of securing a cessation of the fighting and separation of the forces. On April 25, 1993, at a meeting in Zagreb, between President Izetbegović and Mate Boban, an agreement for an immediate ceasefire was reached.[39]


The ICTY Trial Chamber in the Kordić and Čerkez case found that Bosniaks were systematically subjected to arbitrary imprisonment for which there was no justification. The assertion that they were detained for security reasons, or for their own safety, was found to be without foundation. While detained, Bosniaks were subjected to conditions which varied from camp to camp, but which were generally inhuman. The detainees were, without any justification, used as hostages and human shields, and forced to dig trenches. As a result of the latter activity, a number were killed or wounded. [40]

Kaonik camp

Kaonik camp was located five kilometres north of Busovača. Bosniak civilians and members of Bosnian Territorial Defence were detained in the camp on two occasions: first, after the Croatian Defence Council attack on the municipality in January 1993 and, secondly, after the attacks in the Lašva Valley in April 1993. In January several hundred Bosniak men were detained. In May 1993, 79 detainees were listed. Conditions in the camp were atrocious. The cells were small and over-crowded, hygiene was very poor and the food was inadequate. The detainees were subjected to beatings. Sounds of screams were played on the loudspeakers at night. HVO forced detainees from Kaonik to dig trenches at various places. According to a witness, 26 of those taken during his time did not return. [41]

Vitez detention facilities

The Vitez Cinema is part of a complex variously called "the Cinema", "Cultural Centre" or "Workers’ University". During the war, this complex housed the headquarters of the Viteška Brigade. Parts of it (first the basement, then the cinema hall) were also used after April 16, 1993, for the detention of some 200-300 Bosniak men of all ages, who had been rounded up. The complex was guarded by HVO soldiers in uniform, some being members of the military police. Prisoners were beaten during their stay and taken out to dig trenches and some did not return. [42]

A detention centre was also established in Vitez Veterinary Station and was used for the first few days of the conflict in Vitez. There were about 40 Bosniaks detained in the basement and around 70 people were detained in total: the guards did not provide the detainees with any food but the detainees’ families could bring food for them. The detainees were taken to dig trenches at Krušćica, where two were killed. [43]

Dubravica Elementary School was an important centre for the detention of over 300 Bosniaks by the HVO between April 16-30, 1993. Some were killed and others wounded, while some suffered physical mistreatment and humiliation while digging trenches. Anto Breljaš, a Croat soldier confirmed as a witness in the Kordić trial, that there were about 350 Bosniak prisoners (men, women and children) in the school. Women and children were separated from the men. The former were kept in the classrooms and the latter in the gymnasium. Military prisoners were kept in the basement and 15 of them were killed. In the gymnasium there was not enough air; there was inadequate food and no medical treatment. The detainees were mistreated and would be used as human shields and for trench-digging in the area near the school and Kula. This all led the witness to protest against the mistreatment of prisoners.[44]

Individuals accused of war crimes

Accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia:

Accused by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Individuals convicted of war crimes

Convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia:

Convicted by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina: