Legendary Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic remembered at Presidential Complex

Published 23.10.2017 20:29
Updated 24.10.2017 01:27

The Beştepe Presidential Complex hosted a remembrance event Monday for late Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Izetbegovic's son, Bakir Izetbegovic, were among those who attended the event for the "wise king."

Izetbegovic, who died in 2003, dedicated his life to the struggle of the Bosnian community and guided it through a war in the 1990s. President Erdoğan, who met Izetbegovic before his death, takes pride in being "bequeathed" by the late leader to protect Bosnia, "a legacy of the Ottomans."

The event kicked off with a concert by Bosnian artist Lejla Jusic accompanied by an orchestra led by renowned maestro Emir Nuhanovic. It was followed by a recitation of the Quran and the screening of a documentary on Izetbegovic.

Speaking at the event, Erdoğan said the first president of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a thinker, a scholar, a politician and "more."

"He was a young thinker when he was imprisoned for being a Muslim, for thinking like a Muslim. He had the entire Muslim world in his heart, from Bosnia to Morocco, from Indonesia to Turkey," Erdoğan said.

"With his Islamic Declaration in the gloomy atmosphere of the 1970s, Alija became a monument of self-confidence," he added, referring to the book that served as a guideline for the expansion of Islamic thought and an independent Bosnia decades before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The president also recalled how he diverted his plane to Sarajevo while traveling to Turkey from Vienna after learning that Izetbegovic was gravely ill.

"He held my hands and told me to protect Bosnia," Erdoğan said, recounting his final moments with Izetbegovic in 2003.

Though Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina have maintained relations since the collapse of Yugoslavia, ties were further improved after Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power one year before Izetbegovic's death.

Bakir Izetbegovic said at the event that his father spent eight years of his life at war and nine years in prison and his struggle was to preserve Islam, Bosniaks, their identity and their culture. He said the elder Izetbegovic always fought the powers "seemingly stronger" than him but he never conceded.

The younger Izetbegovic, who now serves as the Bosniak member of tripartite presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said Turkey has always been a friend of Bosnia. "There have been times that they forgot Bosnia while they were struggling to resolve their own problems and there have been times that they were not powerful enough to help Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thank God, today, Turkey, under the leadership of our friend Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is strong enough to help us," he said.

He also spoke about Erdoğan's visit to his father before his death. "When he was told Erdoğan would visit him, he repeatedly asked us when Tayyip would come. He tried to show him that he was still healthy. He also told him that he entrusted Bosnia to Erdoğan, and Erdoğan now does this," Izetbegovic said.

Izetbegovic entered politics the same year and founded the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in 1990, to empower Bosniaks in their land.

Being one of the six republics of Yugoslavia, Bosnia's SDA won 86 seats in the 240-seat parliament in the first multi-party elections in1990.

In February-March 1992, a referendum on independence for Bosnia-Herzegovina was held in which 64 percent of voters participated and passing with 99.44 percent to become independent. A month later, the European Union and the United States recognized the new state. However, the then political leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, rejected the result and was the political face of an armed campaign that culminated in ethnic cleansing, a return to mass murder in postwar Europe. But neither during the ensuing war nor during the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of thousands of Muslim Bosnian men and boys did Izetbegovic lose the spirit of resistance. In November 1995, Bosniaks, amid international pressure, stopped the war and signed the Dayton Agreement, bringing peace to the country.

After stepping down as chair of Bosnia's presidency in 2000, Izetbegovic lived alone on one floor of his house in Sarajevo.

After his death, as per his request, his remains were laid to rest in the humble Kovaci area of Sarajevo, with "I vow to God, whose strength is above all, we will not be slaves," written on his gravestone.

"If we forget the genocide that targeted us, we will be forced to experience it again. I shall never ask you to seek revenge, but never forget what has been done," Izetbegovic once told his people.

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