Surrounded with hills and mountains and located in the Miljatska River valley, the beautiful Sarajevo is an often admired site of intellectuals and peoples of all races. Sarajevo, which gets its name from the word "serai", which is Turkish for "palace", was founded in the 15th century and later became a military, administrative, and commercial center of Turkey. Sarajevo has served as a setting for a great number of important historical events, events that have often been tumultuous and engrossed in conflict.
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In 1878 Sarajevo passed to Austria-Hungary as a result of the Russo-Turkish wars. It then became the center of attention as the world waited in anticipation of war when Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on June 28, 1914, by a Serbian man named Gavrilo Princip. This was the spark that set off World War 1. This war brought about much suffering and human carnage, and Sarajevo's part in conflict did not end with this event.
In March 1992, Bosnia-Hercegovina declared its independence from the former Yugoslav federation. The Serbs who lived in this ethnically diverse area feared the idea of being controlled by the Muslim Slavs who formed the majority of the population. The Serbs soon armed themselves and began to fight the Muslims. Most of the towns in Bosnia-Hercegovina fell, except for Sarajevo. On April 6, 1992, Serb militants opened fire on thousands of peace demonstrators in Sarajevo, killing at least five and wounding 30. This began a siege that has been termed "the worst in Europe since the end of World War II".
All roads leading in and out of Sarajevo were blockaded, and the airport was shut down. Approximately 400,000 residents were trapped in the siege, and they were cut off from food, medicine, water, and supplies of electricity. Thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and every imaginable offense against human rights was committed ranging from ethnic cleansing and rape, to mass executions and starvation. Residents came very close to complete starvation, and their only chance for survival weighed in the balance on the success of UN airlifts from the Sarajevo airport that was opened in late June of 1992.
In a short time, every building was damaged or destroyed, and no one was safe from attack. On June 1, 1993, at least fifteen people were killed and 80 more were wounded as a result of a mortar attack during a soccer game. Red Cross trucks, which were given clearance to enter Sarajevo, were raided and destroyed, and maternity wards were hit killing mothers and newborns alike. On July 12, 1993, twelve people were killed while in line for water, and on February 5 of the following year mortar shells killed 68, and wounding 200 others in the Sarajevo market place.
Hope was prevalent for a long awaited peace at the outset of 1995 with the embarking of a truce, but on May 1, mortars rocked Sarajevo and the Serbs raided a UN-monitored weapons collection site. This heightened hostilities to such an extent that NATO jets attacked Serb ammunition depots on May 25 of that same year, and not until October 11, 1995 did another cease-fire take effect in this war torn city. On February 29, 1996, the Bosnian government declared that the siege of Sarajevo was over. However, the scars of this once proud city that was an intellectual center noted for its multi-cultural tolerance will not soon be forgotten. Its present population has decreased for 650,000 before the war to 220,000 today. As we head into the new millennium, we can only hope that the history of such a city can take a turn for the more peaceful as families, races, nations, and the world mourns.
"Sarajevo," Collier's Encyclopedia, vol. 20, (New York: P. F. Collier, Inc., 1993).
Smolowe, Jill. "Land of Slaughter," Time, June 8, 1992, vol. 139, no. 23. pp. 32-36.