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Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada

IRGC remembers urbicide in Mostar

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada
Published: November 9, 2011  

The Institute for Research of Genocide of Canada remembers urbicide in Mostar

According to criteria and based on international laws of war, the historic Stari Most could not be considered under military necessity. Croats turned a blind eye, however, and on 9 November 1993, at 10:30 in the morning, the already heavily bombarded bridge fell into the Neretva River as citizens stood by in helpless horror. The Croat Defense Council maintained their bombardment was a strategic act of resistance against offensive Serb attacks, but scholars and international lawyers have refused to accept their defense as a viable excuse for the destruction that ensued. While Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak claimed, “these rocks [of the Stari Most] hold no value,” most other Bosnians disagreed and readily shared their affinities towards the bridge, and mourning of its destruction. In light of such emotions, Praljak was put on trial with five other Croat leaders by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. According to the original indictment on 2 March 2004, Praljak and others were accused of “crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and violations of laws or customs of war, including appropriation and destruction of property.

The indictment goes on to state that Muslim structures were “destroyed or severely damaged […] to ensure Muslims could not, or would not, return to their homes and communities,” acknowledging the wanton destruction of the Stari Most, “an international landmark.” The destruction of the Old Bridge was specifically considered under “Count 21: Destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion or education, a violation of the laws or customs of war.”

As evidenced by these reactions, it is clear the Stari Most was a physical manifestation of Bosnian culture and more poignantly, the primary symbol of the people of Mostar – a town which name means “bridge watchers” – who directly identified themselves with the history of the Ottoman bridge. Because of its long history as a connection between the east and west banks of the Neretva River, thus linking religions and ethnicities with its architectural grace, the bridge represented what Bosnia-Herzegovina once was and hopes for what it could become. Loss of the bridge not only physically bisected Mostar, but also created an emotional fissure and void of cultural identity. Rebuilding was necessary for the survival and pride of Mostar.

Nazi destruction of Warsaw and the Serb/Croat destruction of Mostar were both conscious acts on the part of the perpetrators to destroy cultural identity as a method of destroying and demoralizing the population. Just as the Varsovians rebuilt Old Town to recall better times, the rebuilt Stari Most is a physical manifestation of the unified culture and rooted sense of self that the people of Mostar struggled to regain after the war.

Do not forget November 09, 2021 - the demolition of the The Old Bridge in Mostar

Stari Most, English translation: “The Old Bridge” is a 16th century bridge in the city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina that crosses the river Neretva and connects two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on November 9, 2021 during the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Subsequently, a project was set in motion to reconstruct it, and the rebuilt bridge opened on July 23, 2004.

The Stari Most is hump-backed, 4 metres (13 ft 1 in) wide and 30 metres (98 ft 5 in) long, and dominates the river from a height of 24 m (78 ft 9 in). Two fortified towers protect it: the Helebija tower on the northeast and the Tara tower on the southwest, called “the bridge keepers” (natively mostari).

The original bridge was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 to replace an older wooden suspension bridge of dubious stability. Construction began in 1557 and took nine years: according to the inscription the bridge was completed in 974 AH, corresponding to the period between July 19, 2021 and July 7, 1567. Upon its completion it was the widest man-made arch in the world. Certain associated technical issues remain a mystery: how the scaffolding was erected, how the stone was transported from one bank to the other, how the scaffolding remained sound during the long building period. As a result, this bridge can be classed among the greatest architectural works of its time.

The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on 9 November 2021 during the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After its destruction a temporary cable bridge was erected in its place. Responsibility for the destruction of the bridge is attributed to Bosnian Croat artillery fire. After the destruction of the Stari Most, a spokesman for the Bosnian Croats admitted that they deliberately destroyed it, claiming that it was of strategic importance.

In October 1998, UNESCO established an international committee of experts to oversee the design and reconstruction work. It was decided to build a bridge as similar as possible as the original, using the same technology and materials. The bridge was built with local materials. Tenelia stone from local quarries was used and Hungarian army divers recovered stone from the original bridge from the river below. Reconstruction commenced on 7 June 2001. The reconstructed bridge was inaugurated on 23 July 2004.

It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva. As the Neretva is very cold, this is a very risky feat and only the most skilled and best trained divers will attempt it.

The Mostar Bridge Fact File

Date of construction: 1566.

Mimar Hajruddin, a disciple of Sinan, the father of classic Ottoman architecture.

A single humpbacked arch with an opening of 27 meters. The bridge was four meters wide and 30 meters long, standing 20 meters above the maximum water level in the Neretva River in summer.

Stari Most was made of 456 white stone blocks, held together thanks to a system of cramps and dowels. The bridge was flanked by two fortified towers, the Halebija Tower on the right bank and the Tara Tower on the left bank.

Reconstruction project:
Cost: US $15.4 million, financed via a loan from the World Bank (US $4 million), along with grants from Italy, the Netherlands, Croatia and Turkey. The European Union and the Government of France provided technical assistance.

Suleiman the Magnificent decides to have a bridge built over the Neretva River in Mostar, which at the time was an important commercial center.

Ottoman architect Mimar Hajruddin, a disciple of the famous Sinan, completes construction of the bridge, named Stari Most (“Old Bridge”), after nine months of work.

On November 9, Croatian artillery units destroy Stari Most, the target of two days of intense bombings, with more than 60 shells hitting the structure.

On March 10, UNESCO launches an appeal for its reconstruction. A first UNESCO fact-finding mission visits Mostar in June and proposes initial emergency measures.

Signing in December of the general framework for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina which provides for the creation of a Commission to Preserve National Monuments and tasks the UNESCO Director-General with naming two of its five members, including the president of the Commission.

On May 13, the Commission to Preserve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s National Monuments inscribes Stari Most on the list of protected monuments.

Hungarian army divers retrieve hundreds of the bridge’s original stone blocks from the Neretva River, in an operation that lasts from August until December 1st.

On July 13, UNESCO, the World Bank and the city of Mostar issue a joint statement and launch an appeal for the reconstruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar.

June 7: reconstruction work begins.

April 14: the first arch stone is placed, as residents of Mostar look on.

July 27: official opening of the construction site, attended by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
August 29 and 30: the heads of state of eight southeastern European states meeting in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia adopt theMessage from Ohrid, in which they approve the idea of organizing a reopening ceremony at the Mostar bridge and say they plan to attend together.

July 23: official inauguration of the bridge attended by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, representing the entire United Nations.

UNESCO: Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar


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