Turkish PM attends reopening of historic Bosnian mosque

Turkish prime minister attends the reopening ceremony of the historic Ferhat-Pasha Mosque in Bosnia, which was destroyed during the 1992-95 war.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during an opening ceremony in Banja Luka, May 7, 2016.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attended the reopening ceremony of the historic Ferhat-Pasha mosque in Bosnia’s Serb statelet on Saturday.

The Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) has contributed to the cost of rebuilding of the mosque which was destroyed during wartime in 1990's.

Davutoglu said all the works built in Bosnia as part of Turkey’s shared heritage will be under Turkey’s protection, referring to the 16th-century mosque, which is under UNESCO protection as an outstanding example of Ottoman architecture.

"Those who bombed Ferhat Pasha mosque 23 years ago, not only destroyed a mosque but also destroyed humanity's shared conscience,” Davutoglu said.

“We are in fact reinstated humanity's conscience through rebuilding this mosque."

Photo shows Ferhat Pasha Mosque in Bosnia’s Serb statelet, May 6, 2016. (AA)

Twenty years after the devastating war between Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, Bosnia remains split along ethnic lines, with rival groups blocking reconciliation and reform needed to join the European Union.

The return of thousands of Muslim believers to the rebuilt Ferhat-Pasha Mosque in the largely Serb city of Banja Luka, capital of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic, offers hope for change to many.

Many believe its destruction was ordered by Bosnian Serbs aiming to erase any traces of Muslim heritage in the once multi-ethnic city.

During the ceremony to lay a foundation stone for the mosque in 2001, Serb nationalists attacked visitors and dignitaries, wounding dozens and killing one Muslim.

It took 15 years for Bosnia's Muslims to obtain construction permits and funds to rebuild the mosque. Thousands of pieces of rubble from the original building were used after being recovered from the Vrbas River and a garbage site where they were dumped.

The day it was levelled, May 7, is now the Day of the Mosques in Bosnia, where 614 mosques were destroyed during the 1992-95 war.

Today, only 10 percent of Banja Luka's pre-war Muslim and Croat population remains in the city, following a Serb campaign to ethnically cleanse territories for their Serb statelet.

Photo shows interior design of Ferhat Pasha Mosque in Bosnia’s Serb statelet, May 6, 2016. (AA)

"I am excited," said Ajsa Nezirovic, 64, a Muslim from Banja Luka. "I know it will never be the same again but this may allow at least some people to feel welcome back to the city."

"I only want this opening to pass peacefully and without any incident as tensions still run high," said Tatjana Kecman, a Serb, also from Banja Luka.

"The mosque is rebuilt but our children have no jobs, and pensions are poor. We were all much better off before," said Fejhila, 58, a Muslim who stayed in Banja Luka during the war.

Efendi Husein Kavazovic, head of Bosnia's Islamic community, told local daily Nezavisne Novine on Friday the reopening could be a force for good, but added:

"We are still far away from honestly looking into each other's eyes and saying: 'We are sorry. We are truly sorry.'"

War casts a long shadow here, with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic jailed for genocide only in March. The United Nations says Bosnian Serb backing for secession from the fragile Bosnian state is a challenge to the 1995 peace settlement.

TRTWorld and agencies