The Tragedy of Yugoslavia - Bosnian Bloodbath
Bosnia has always been a mixture of various faiths, ethnicities, and cultures. It lies on the intersection of three major civilizations - Slavic-Orthodox, Islamic, and Catholic - and has been ruled by several Empires throughout its history. As such, it has always been a major area for conflict - and the events of 1992-1995 prove this point.
By the beginning of 1992, several events had already sent the entire Balkan region into turmoil. Most notably, Croatia was in the midst of a large war between Serbs and Croats, with an uneasy peace beginning at the end of 1991. Bosnia's population at the time was 44% Bosniak (Muslim Bosnians), 33% Serb, and 17% Croat. As the war in Croatia escalated, ethnic tensions among these three major groups skyrocketed. Notably, the RAM plan, which armed and organized Serbs outside of Serbia, was (rightfully) viewed as a major threat by the Bosniaks and Croats. On March 1, 1992, Bosnia held an independence referendum on whether or not Bosnia should be independent from Yugoslavia. The Serbs, as they did in Croatia, boycotted the referendum. With 99.7% of the vote in favor of independence, on April 6, 1992, Bosnia declared its independence, leading directly to the largest European war since the end of World War II.
Immediately after Bosnia declared its independence, the Serbian Republica Sprska was formed, which was backed by the JNA (Yugoslavia at this point was essentially Serbia). That same day, Serbian forces began to shell the city of Sarajevo, beginning a brutal siege which would last for nearly four years. Serbian artillery, mobilized by the RAM plan, continually bombarded Sarajevo, firing hundreds of shells daily, until virtually every building in the Bosnian capital was damaged or destroyed Every road leading in or out of Sarajevo was shut down, and the electricity to the city was cut off. Serbian snipers, positioned on various hilltops surrounding the city, shot at virtually every moving living creature. The situation in Sarajevo grew into a complete humanitarian disaster, to the point where NATO airlifts were the lifeline preventing Sarajevo from starving. However, there were simply too many Bosniak defenders preventing the Serbs from taking the city.
Sarajevo was not the only city which was besieged by the Serbs. Gorzade was shelled indiscriminately beginning May 4th, 1992, inflicting heavy casualties. In retaliation, Bosniaks living in Gorzade killed most of the Bosnian Serbs still living in the city. By August of 1992, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina had managed to push the Serbs out of the eastern suburbs, allowing for UN relief to arrive, but the Serbs still held out outside of the city.
Around the end of 1992, an interesting development began to take place. Previously, the Croats and Bosniaks were allies, as both of them had a common enemy in the Serbs. However, there was no affinity between these two peoples- and even the "common enemy" aspect was fading. The Croats and Serbs had almost signed the Graz agreement, which would have ended conflict between the Serbs and Croats. Furthermore, Croat nationalists desired a "greater Croatia" which included most of Bosnia. Escalating tensions between the Croats and Bosniaks led to the proclamation of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia and the Croat-Bosniak war.
In August of 1992, the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) attacked several Bosniak-held villages. The attacks continued throughout the rest of 1992 and into 1993, where they escalated. On the 18th of January, 1993, Croat forces shelled the village of Dusa, killing 7. On April 16th, the Ahmici massacre occured, where around 100 Bosniaks were brutally murdered by Croat forces. That same day, the Trusina killings transpired, where 22 Croats were killed by Bosniak forces. On June 30th, the HVO defended the town of Zepce from a Bosniak attack, allegedly using "borrowed" weapons from the Serbs. Grabovicia was the next sight of violence, where in September 1993, Bosniak forces killed 33 Croats. Both sides continued to slaughter each other in the dozens, until the Washington Agreement was signed in 1994. The Washington Agreement resulted in the establishment of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina - a loose federation which prevented one ethnic group from dominating the other.
During the Croat-Bosniak war, however, there was still major conflict involving the Serbs. January of 1993 saw the Skelani massacre, where Bosniak forces killed 69 Serbs and burned houses and churches. Republica Sprksa shelling of Sarajevo resulted in the Markale massacre, when 68 Bosniaks were killed when an artillery shell hit a market place. The Bosniaks also launched Operation Tiger-94, where Bosniak forces routed the Republica Sprksa in western Bosnia. October of 1994 also saw the Battle of Kupres, where the Serbs lost around 500 square kilometers of territory to both Bosniak and Croat forces.
Arguably one of the most important days in the post-Cold war era occurred on February 28, 1994. NATO had been increasing its efforts in Bosnia for the past year or so, providing mostly humanitarian aid, and more importantly, enforcing a no-fly zone over Bosnia. On February 28, the Banja Luka incident took place, when US F-16 fighter jets shot down four Serbian jets. This was the first instance of active combat in the history of NATO, and marked a dramatic turning point in the Bosnian war. On April 10th of 1994, NATO jets bombed a Serbian command center in Gradacac, and NATO conducted several precision airstrikes on Serbian military pieces throughout 1994.
1995 marked the bloody and bitter conclusion to the Bosnian war. The Serbs, exhausted from years of drawn out fighting in Croatia and Bosnia, planned a last gamble which involved attacking UN protected "safe areas" in Srebrenica, Zepa, and Gorzade, and driving the Muslims out of Sarajevo, effectively ending the war.
In July, the Serbs attacked Srebrenica, resulting in a massacre of around 7000 Bosniaks.This was ethnic cleansing of the type not seen since the Nazis ruled Europe, and NATO found itself rattled by the killings. In retaliation, the Croats launched operation Summer 95, which resulted in the capture of the Knin-Dvar road and several hundred square kilometers of Serbian territory. However, the city of Bihac was still under siege - and with 150,000 Bosniaks trapped in Bihac, the fall of Bihac could have resulted in a genocide.
Fearing a bloodbath of epic proportions, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force in August of 1995. Around 1000 bombs were dropped over a 21 day period. Airstrikes were temporarily suspended in early September to issue an ultimatum to the Serbs - withdraw heavy weapons from Sarajevo and pull out of UN safe zones - but this ultimatum was ignored, and bombing resumed on September 5th. The Croats and Bosniaks proceeded to launch a final, joint-offensive in Sarajevo, where they slowly managed to drive the Serbs out.
On December 14, 1995, the Dayton Agreement was signed, which concluded the Bosnian war. This agreement kept Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single country, but essentially partitioned it into two. The Serbs kept their Republica Sprska, while the Bosniaks and Croats had Bosnia and Herzegovina. These two entities are still around today, and essentially function as two autonomous states.