Prime Minsiter Ahmet Davutoğlu on Saturday said that the reopened historic Ferhadija Mosque sends a message of peace to all people in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well all citizens of the world.
Davutoğlu made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the renovated 16th century Ferhadija Mosque in the country's second-largest city, Banja Luka.
The mosque is considered a cultural symbol of the country but suffered extensive damage by dynamite in May 1993 during the Bosnian War.
In his speech, Davutoğlu highlighted three significant aspects of the mosque's reopening.
"The first is in terms of humanity's conscience," he said. "Those who bombed and destroyed Ferhadija Mosque 23 years ago not only destroyed a mosque, they also destroyed humanity's conscience. Today by rebuilding this mosque, we are in fact rebuilding the conscience of humanity. Let it be known that as long as this mosque is here, payers voicing humanity's conscience will speak to the skies in Banja Luka."
Davutoğlu continued: "The second aspect is our common cultural heritage. Bosnia Herzegovina's common cultural heritage is under our auspices. We were together at the opening ceremony of the [rebuilt] Mostar Bridge, now at the opening of Ferhadija, and insallah we will also be together at the opening of Alaca Mosque in Foca."
Davutoğlu also promised further support for restoring destroyed heritage in the area.
"I promise on behalf of Turkey: Every single destroyed common object of our cultural heritage will be reviewed so it can reach its historical value. We are here for fellowship, for humanity, for multicultural Bosnia-Herzegovina. We were here, we are here, we will be here for eternity," said Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu also stressed the importance of unity between people of different faiths in Bosnia.
"The third aspect is about the future of Bosnia. Bosnia is a whole with Muslims, Orthodox, Jews, and Catholics. Whoever wants to separate Bosnia, in fact wants to separate the people's heart. Banja Luka can never be separated from Sarajevo, Sarajevo can never be separated from Mostar," said Davutoğlu.
"The reopening of Ferhat-Pasha Mosque is a message of peace to the world. It is only in a handful of cities that a mosque, synagogue, and a church stand side by side. Maybe in Istanbul and Sarajevo…If this specific character of Bosnia-Herzegovina is preserved, then humanity would be represented in Bosnia. If not, Bosnia would also lose its soul," Davutoğlu said.
He added: "You have 78 million Turks as friends to support you."
Turkey has contributed to the cost of rebuilding. After 15 years of restoration, the mosque reopened on May 7 on the anniversary of its destruction thanks to extensive restoration work by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA).
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.
During a 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.
"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.