Siege of Sarajevo

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Bosnian soldiers on a house to house hunt for a Serbian sniper.

The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. It lasted from April 5 1992 to February 29 1996. It was fought between the forces of the Bosnian government, who had declared independence from Yugoslavia, and Serbian paramilitaries, who sought to secede from the newly-independent Bosnia. An estimated 12,000 people were killed and another 50,000 wounded during the siege. Reports indicate an average of approximately 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a high of 3,777 shell impacts on July 22 1993. The shellfire caused extensive damage to the city's structures, including civilian and cultural property.

Missing image
The city remains badly damaged from the fighting.



From its creation following World War II, the government of Yugoslavia kept a close watch on nationalism among the Yugoslav peoples, as it could have led to chaos and the breakup of the state. With longtime dictator Tito's death in 1980, this policy took a dramatic reversal. Serbian nationalists, led by Slobodan Milošević pushed for change in state structure and government that would give an advantage to the Serbs. This in turn led to a rise in power among nationalist political groups among the other peoples. As Milosević pushed his agenda, his counterparts responded likewise and tension escalated.

Fearing a Serb dominated Yugoslavia, Croatia and Slovenia each declared their independence in 1991. Without the two main non-Serb republics in the federation, the possibility of Serb domination in any future "Yugoslavia" was even greater. On March 1st 1992, the Bosnian government held a referendum on independence. The Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks mostly voted in favor of independence, while Bosnian Serbs boycotted the referendum, considering it unconstitutional. 66% of eligible voters went to the polls, and 99% of those voted for independence, leading to the Bosnian parliament declaring the republic's independence on April 5 1992. The European Community agreed to recognize Bosnia as an independent state on April 6th. Before they could officially do that however, war began.


Sarajevo Executive Council
Sarajevo Executive Council

The first casualty of war is a point of contention between Serbs and the other groups. What is clear however is that the war most certainly started in Sarajevo. Serbs contend that the first casualty was Nikola Gardović, a groom's father killed at a Serb wedding procession on the first day of the referendum, February 29, 1992. Bosniaks contend that this was one of a number of politically oriented killings in the first quarter of that year. The most widely accepted start of the war is April 5. The day of the declaration of independence, massive peace marches took place in the city, with the largest group of protestors moving towards the parliament building. At that point, unidentified gunmen fired upon the crowd, killing one person. This person, Suada Dilberović, is widely considered the first casualty of the war in Bosnia and the siege of Sarajevo. Today the bridge where she was killed is named in her honor.

In the months leading up to the war, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) forces in the region began to mobilize in the hills surrounding the city. Artillery and various other equipment that would prove key in the future besieging of the city was implemented at this time. In April of 1992, the Bosnian government demanded that the government of Yugoslavia remove these forces. Milosević's government agreed to withdraw those forces who were not of Bosnian nationality, an insignificant number. Those Bosnian Serb forces in the army were transferred to the army of Republika Srpska, which had declared independence from Bosnia a few days after Bosnia itself seceded from Yugoslavia.

On May 2, 1992, a complete blockade of the city was officially established by the Bosnian Serb forces. Major roads leading into the city were blocked, as were shipments of food and medicine. Utilities such as water, electricity, and heating were cut off. The number of Serbian forces around Sarajevo, although better armed, was grealy inferior in number to the Bosnian defenders within the city. Hence, instead of directly trying to take over the city, the besieging forces continuously bombarded and weakened the city from the mountains.

To counterbalance the siege, the Sarajevo Airport was opened to United Nations airlifts in late June of 1992. Sarajevo's survival became strongly dependent on them.

The second half of 1992 and first half of 1993 were the height of the Siege of Sarajevo. Various atrocities were committed, and fighting was heavy in what many deemed the worst military siege since Stalingrad. Serbian forces from outside the city continuously shelled the government defenders. Meanwhile, some Serbs from inside the city had joined the besiegers' cause. Most of the major military forts and arms supplies within the city were in Serbian control. Snipers roamed the city all over as "Pazite, Snajper!" ("Beware, Sniper!") became a common sign. Some streets were so dangerous to cross or use that they became known as "Sniper Alleys". Some neighborhoods of the city were taken over by the Serbs, especially in Novo Sarajevo, as Serbian offensives into parts of the city were met with success.

The city defenders had inferior weaponry to the besiegers. It was not uncommon for guns to be fashioned out of household pipes. Raids and captures on Serb held forts within the city greatly helped the cause. Some Bosnian criminals who had joined the army at the outset of the war illegally smuggled arms into the city through Serb lines.

Many civilian buildings were targeted at this time. By September 1993, reports concluded that virtually all buildings in Sarajevo had suffered some degree of damage, and 35,000 were completely destroyed. Among these buildings targeted and destroyed were hospitals and medical complexes, media and communication centers, industrial targets, government buildings, and military and United Nations centers. Some of the more significant of these were the building of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the National Library, which burned to the ground along with thousands of irreplaceable texts.

The shelling of the city took a tremendous toll on lives. Mass killings due primarily to mortar shell impacts made headline news in the West. On June 1 1993, 15 people were killed and 80 injured during a soccer game. On July 12 of the same year, 12 people were killed while in line for water. The biggest of these however was the Markale Market massacre, in which Serb militants killed 68 people and wounded 200 others.

Missing image
The Markale Market today.

In response to the Markale Market massacre, the UN issued an ultimatum to Serb forces to withdraw heavy weaponry beyond a certain point in a given amount of time or face air-strikes. Near the end of the given time, Serb forces complied. City shelling drastically decreased at that point, which could perhaps be seen as the beginning of the end.

Rays of hope began to arise. The Sarajevo tunnel was completed in mid 1993, which allowed supplies to come into the city, and people to get out. The tunnel was one of the major ways of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry. In effect, it is said the tunnel saved Sarajevo.

In 1995, International forces firmly turned against the besiegers. Serb forces raided a UN-monitored weapons collection site, which prompted NATO jets to attack Serb ammunition depots. Fighting continued, as the Serbs slowly lost more and more ground. Heating, electricity, and water would eventually come back to the city as well. A cease fire was reached in October 1995, and the Dayton Agreement was reached later that year bringing peace to the country. A period of stabilization and return to normalcy followed, with the Bosnian government not officially declaring the siege of Sarajevo over until February 29 1996.

Alleged ethnic cleansing

Among the more controversial topics regarding the siege of Sarajevo is the alleged ethnic cleansing that took place at the time. Namely, after several years in the 1990s characterised by denial of the widely held view of the Serb role in the Yugoslav wars, a trend has developed in the 2000s where Serb nationalists have attempted to draw Bosniak and Croat parallels to such infamous examples of attrocities as Banja Luka and Srebrenica. Regarding Sarajevo, the typical claim is that between 1992 and 1995, 150,000 Serbs were ethnically cleansed from Sarajevo, with several thousand killed. The allegations were brought to the media forefront in early 2005 when the premier of Republika Srpska, Pero Bukejlović, claimed that genocide was committed against Serbs during the siege of Sarajevo that exceeded that of the Srebrenica massacre.

Such claims are, upon careful analysis, fairly easy to refute. First of all, the often cited number of 150,000 ethnically cleansed Serbs is impossible, considering that there were only around 150,000 Serbs in Sarajevo. For such ludicrous claims to be true, every single Serb in the entire Sarajevo region would had to have been ethnically cleansed. The mere existence of some 40,000 Serbs in the Sarajevo area today refutes this. Furthermore, the number of killed and wounded in the siege of Sarajevo has been carefully documented. Out of 12,000 people killed, around one fourth were ethnic Serbs or people of Serbian ancestry. Taking into account civilian and military deaths, the number of Serbs killed is relatively proportional to the percent of the Sarajevo population they made up at the time.

Asides from these documented victims there were, according to the international red cross[1] (, only 242 ethnically Serb missing persons in the Sarajevo area. Granted this is a significant number nontheless, but when it's taken into account that the number of missing persons for various towns in East Bosnia is in the thousands, the popular nationalist claim is proven baseless. Furthermore, the ability of the Bosnian government to stage a genocide of such a magnitude while under siege and being perpetually bombarded is highly questionable. The Hague has yet to make any accusations for individuals that had a role in the alleged Sarajevo genocide, which cannot be said of most major centers of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Commander Musana Topalovic Cace did commit crimes against Sarajevo citizens in 1993, but he was quickly liquidated by the government. Certainly it is plausible that some Serbs were ethnically cleansed, but more than likely these were isolated incidents and not a consequence of direct government action or strategy. Tellingly, though hundreds of mosques in Republika Srpska were demolished, no orthodox church was harmed during, or following, the siege of Sarajevo.

Of course the question remains; what happened to the 100,000+ Serbs who are no longer in the city? It must be noted that following the siege of Sarajevo the population of the city had srunk by around 250,000 people, meaning that besides Serbs 150,000 former citizens of Sarajevo of different ethnicities were also no longer there. Ethnic cleansing had certainly occurred in areas of the city held by Serb radicals; Ilidza, for example, had 9 detention camps for non-Serbs. It is no secret that Karadzic's intention was to split the city into two at a point that would have required the ethnic cleansing of over 150,000 Bosniaks and Croats. Once the war was over and Sarajevo firmly in the hands of the Bosniak-Croat federation, it is understandable that many Serbs would not have wanted to stay in a city where they would have been viewed with suspicion and been a clear minority. In the communities of Grbavica and Ilidza, seized by Serb radicals during the siege, Serbs looted and destroyed what was left of the area to make life harsher for returning Bosniak and Croat refugees. Upon the return of the ethnically cleansed, the remaining Serb community was harassed and looked upon with suspicion, pushing many more to leave the city as well[2] ( Thousands of the Serbs who had left the city by then went to what is today "East Sarajevo", a politically distinct Sarajevo suburb that in reality is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the city and home to a couple dozen thousand Serbs. Leading up to the siege itself, the Serb forces surrounding the city had allowed many Serb citizens to leave while forcing members of other nationalities to stay behind.

Today, Sarajevo citizens of all nationalities generally take accusations of ethnic cleansing in Sarajevo during the war as a highly offensive insult. In response to premier Bukejlovic's statement, many have demanded a public apology to all Sarajevo citizens. The president of the Serb citizens council/Citizen's movement for equality, Mirko Pejanovic, stated that "Nobody, not even Bukejlovic, can change or cover up the truth for the sake of current political needs. In Sarajevo, during the four year siege carried out by Karadzic's military forces and the SDS, there were deaths of Sarayliyas of all ethnicities. The people were both suffering and dying from hunger, cold, they were being killed by mortar shells... among the 12,000 killed Sarayliyas recorded in the war, at least one fourth were members of the Serb nation or had Serb ethnic ancestry. Thus, we can not talk of an extermination or genocide of Serbs, but of a responsibilty of the SDS and Karadzic's military forces for the overall extermination of Sarajevo and Sarayliyas, and within that of the Serb people".


Missing image
The former Sarajevo newspaper building. For years after the siege it remained as a memorial.

Sarajevo was heavily damaged during those four years. The siege of Sarajevo was undoubtedly the worst and most catastrophic period in the city's history since World War I. Previous to the siege, the city was experiencing tremendous growth and development. The 1984 Olympics had brought back some of the glory Sarajevo hadn't seen since the late 17th century. The warfare put a stop to all of this, taking the city back to a desolated square one. From a pre-war population of some 500,000, the city was left with a mere 250,000 or so people.

Missing image
Scars remain across the city, serving as poignant reminders of the destruction.

The city used to be a model for inter-ethnic relations, but the siege of Sarajevo inspired dramatic population shifts. Asides from the thousands of refugees who left the city, an immense number of Sarajevo Serbs left for the Republika Srpska as well. The percentage of Serbs in Sarajevo decreased from more than 30% in 1991 to slightly over 10% in 2002. Regions of Novo Sarajevo that are now part of the Republika Srpska have formed "Srpsko Sarajevo" (Serbian Sarajevo), where a good deal of the pre-war Serbian population lives today. Some Serbs that remained in Sarajevo were treated harshly by refugees returning to their homes, significantly so in Ilid&382;a.

Since the gloomy desolate years of the early 1990s, Sarajevo has made tremendous progress, and is well on its way to recovery as a modern European capital. By 2004 most of the damage done to buildings during the siege was fixed. A slew of construction projects have made Sarajevo perhaps the fastest growing city in the former Yugoslavia. Sarajevo's metro-area population in 2002 was around 401,000, which was 20,000 less than the population of the city itself in 1991. With its current growth and reconstruction, Sarajevo may one day in the not so distant future return to its late 1980s form and is clearly on the fast track to recovery, but the scars of the siege of Sarajevo on its history may never fully disappear.

External links

fr:Siège de Sarajevo fi:Sarajevon piiritys


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools