By Talha Ozturk
BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – Despite the political division, economic problems or corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the destruction of Old Bridge in Mostar revives heartbreaking memories every year at the beginning of November.
Mostar Bridge, or the Old Bridge, is the gem of both the Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina –etched on the hearts of its locals and visitors with its stunning historical appearance and the Neretva river which lays underneath.
25 years ago on Nov. 9, at 10.16 a.m., the Old Bridge came under heavy fire by the Croat forces.
Since its was reconstructed in 2004, every year Bosnia and Herzegovina marks the anniversary of its destruction.
Apart from being a tourist attraction, the bridge significantly mirrors the history of the region.
In fact, Mostar city is mostly known for its iconic Old Bridge that connects the east and west of the city, constructed alongside the Neretva River.
The Old Bridge was built between 1557 and 1566 after the citizens of Mostar requested the Ottoman Empire's Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
However on Nov. 9, 1993, the Old Bridge was buried under the Neretva River when it could not resist the shelling of Croatians any longer.
The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia had sentenced former Bosnian Croat leader Jadranko Prlic and five co-defendants to 10 to 25 years of jail terms on charges of "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims and the destruction of the Ottoman-era Old Bridge of Mostar during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
While the bridge was reconstructed in 2004 — which one hoped would reunite the city’s east and the west — people continue the struggle to live together in the small Bosnian city. In fact, today it is known as the "most divided city" in Bosnia.
The east side of the river is inhabited by Muslims while the west is inhabited by Catholics. This fact by itself gives the bridge a symbolic role.
Bosnian journalist Alija Behram, a witness to the fall of the bridge 25 years ago and the first journalist to tell the story to the media, said he still feels the sorrow deep in his heart.
Behram said that the history is buried deep in the waters of Neretva and that day is etched in his memories: "It was a moment I will never forget."
"At the very place I witnessed the destruction I spotted a prominent politician of his day — who was there coincidentally — carrying a satellite phone.
I made contact with the radio, and I was the first to announce the news. It was the hardest day of my professional career," said Behram.
Behram said he was outraged of the destruction of the bridge as a resident of Mostar.
"The Mostar Bridge is not an ordinary bridge for us. We had an emotional connection with it. We would meet our loved one on the bridge and cry out our love right there.
We would jump into the cool waters of Neretva. Mostar bridge was the heart of the city back then just as it is today," he added.
– 'Signature of the city'
Mostar resident Croatian painter Mirko Bozic emphasized that the Mostar Bridge is the city's signature.
"I was 9 years old when the bridge was destroyed. We were in a refugee camp with my family in Hungary. I was very upset when I heard about the destruction," said Bozic.
Bozic described the reconstruction of the bridge as the "renewal of the soul".
"The destruction of the bridge was not a simple one for me. That day, the memories of my childhood were destroyed, too.
Like other children, we would not play in the gardens. We'd gather around the bridge, play games on it. It was actually my emotional legacy that was destroyed," said Bozic.
Citizens of Mostar hope one day the division between the two peoples will come to an end.