Banja Luka: Over 10,000 people turned out on Saturday for the re-opening of a mosque in Bosnia that was blown up by Christian Orthodox Serbs during the 1992-1995 war and that became a symbol of the effort to destroy Bosnia's centuries-long multireligious fabric.
The Ferhat Pasha mosque also called Ferhadija was a masterpiece of 16th-century Ottoman architecture and one of the 16 mosques in Banja Luka or one of the 534 throughout the country that were destroyed or damaged by Bosnian Serbs in order to erase any traces of those they were expelling or killing.
Their aim was to make that part of Bosnia a apart of neighboring Serbia.
The so-called "ethnic cleansing" project, also targeting Roman Catholic Croats and other non-Serbs, included expelling people from their homes, looting their property, killing some and putting others in concentration camps.
The destruction of their heritage was an essential part of the plan, aimed also at discouraging survivors from returning.
In 1995, after over 100,000 people were killed, a peace agreement divided the country in two halves one for the Serbs, where Banja Luka ended up, and the other shared by Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.
The agreement guaranteed refugees the right to return to their prewar homes and reconstruction of the Ferhadija mosque was to encourage the plan.
But an attempt in 2001 to lay a foundation stone was disrupted by a Serb nationalist mob. One Muslim visitor was killed and dozens were injured.
NATO forces had to evacuate foreign ambassadors from the ceremony by helicopters.