BANJA LUKA, BOSNIA |
Thousands of Muslims flocked to the capital of Bosnia’s Serb region on Saturday for the reopening of a historic mosque destroyed during wartime, a ceremony seen as encouraging religious tolerance among deeply divided communities.
Twenty years after the devastating war between its 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 Muslim believers to the rebuilt Ferhadija mosque in the largely Serb city of Banja Luka, capital of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic, offered hope for change to many, although some were more cautious.
Amid tight security, about 1,000 police officers patrolled the streets as buses arrived with Muslims from across the country. Traffic was barred from the city center and alcohol banned.
Turkey’s outgoing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country contributed to the cost of rebuilding, reopened the mosque in front of a congregation of up to 10,000, saying the new building sent a message of peace.
“Bosnia-Herzegovina, with its Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox and Jews, is one body, one heart. If there is any attempt to split it up, it means that this one heart would be split,” he said, apparently referring to secessionist threats by Bosnian Serbs.
The 16th-century mosque, under UNESCO protection as an outstanding example of Ottoman architecture, was blown up 23 years ago. A parking lot was built where it had stood.
Many believe its destruction was ordered by Bosnian Serbs aiming to erase any traces of Muslim heritage in the once multi-ethnic city.