The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. After being initially besieged by the forces of the Yugoslav People's Army, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 during the Bosnian War. The siege lasted three times longer than the Siege of Stalingrad and a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad.
After Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Serbs—whose strategic goal was to create a new Bosnian Serb state of Republika Srpska (RS) that would include parts of Bosnian territory—encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 13,000 stationed in the surrounding hills. From there they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs and sniper rifles. From 2 May 1992, the Serbs blockaded the city. The Bosnian government defence forces inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege.
It is estimated that 11,000 civilians were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 525,980. There are estimates that prior to the siege the population in the city proper was 435,000. The current estimates of the number of persons living in Sarajevo range from between 300,000 to 380,000.
After the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted two Serb officials for numerous counts of crimes against humanity committed during the siege. Stanislav Galić and Dragomir Milošević were sentenced to life imprisonment and 29 years imprisonment respectively, while Momčilo Perišić received a 27 year-sentence, before being released on appeal in February 2013. One of the 11 indictments against Radovan Karadžić, the former president of the Republika Srpska, is for the siege. In the case against Stanislav Galić, the prosecution alleged in an opening statement that:
From its creation following World War II, the government of Yugoslavia kept a close watch on nationalist sentiment among the many ethnic and religious groups that composed the country, as it could have led to chaos and the breakup of the state. When Yugoslavia's longtime leader Marshal Tito died in 1980 this policy of containment underwent a dramatic reversal.
Nationalism, after violence had erupted in Kosovo, experienced a renaissance in the 1980s. While the goal of Serbian nationalists was the centralisation of Yugoslavia, other nationalities in Yugoslavia aspired to the federalisation and the decentralisation of the state.
On 18 November 1990, the first multi-party parliamentary elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina (with a 2nd round on 25 November), which resulted in a national assembly dominated by three ethnically based parties, which had formed a loose coalition to oust the communists from power. Croatia and Slovenia's subsequent declarations of independence and the warfare that ensued placed Bosnia and Herzegovina and its three constituent peoples in an awkward position. A significant split soon developed on the issue of whether to stay with the Yugoslav federation (overwhelmingly favored among Serbs) or to seek independence (overwhelmingly favored among Bosniaks and Croats).
The Serb members of parliament, consisting mainly of Serb Democratic Party members, abandoned the central parliament in Sarajevo, and formed the Assembly of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 24 October 1991, which marked the end of the tri-ethnic coalition that governed after the elections in 1990. This Assembly established the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 January 1992, which became the Republika Srpska in August 1992.
A declaration of Bosnian sovereignty on 15 October 1991 was followed by a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia on 29 February and 1 March 1992. This referendum was boycotted by the vast majority of the Serbs. The turnout in the independence referendum was 63.4% and 99.7% of voters voted for independence. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 3 March 1992. Following a tense period of escalating tensions the opening shots in the incipient Bosnian conflict were fired when Serb paramilitary forces attacked Bosnian Croat villages around Capljina on 7 March 1992 and around Bosanski Brod and Bosniak town Goražde on 15 March. These minor attacks were followed by much more serious Serb artillery attacks on Neum on 19 March, on Bosanski Brod on 24 and 30 March 1992 on Bijeljina.
Start of the war
On 2 March 1992, Serb paramilitaries set up barricades and sniper positions near Sarajevo's parliament building, but the threatened military coup d'état was thwarted by thousands of Sarajevo citizens who took to the streets in front of the snipers.
Following the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992, sporadic fighting broke out between Serbs and government forces all across the territory. It continued through the run-up to Bosnia and Herzegovina's recognition as an independent state.
On 5 April, ethnic Serb policemen attacked police stations and then an Interior Ministry training school. The attack killed two officers and one civilian. The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared a state of emergency the following day. Later that day, Serb paramilitaries in Sarajevo repeated their action of the previous month. A crowd of peace marchers, between 50,000 and 100,000 comprising all ethnic groups, rallied in protest. As the largest section moved towards the parliament building, gunmen shot and killed two young women in the crowd, Suada Dilberović and Olga Sučić. They are regarded as the first casualties of the siege. Vrbanja Bridge, where they were killed, has since been renamed in their honor.
On 6 April, twelve European Community foreign ministers announced that their countries would recognize the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recognition by the United States followed the next day. Shortly after this, armed conflict broke out. The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the Ministry of Training Academy in Vrace, the central tramway depot and the Old Town district with mortars, artillery and tank fire, and also seized control of Sarajevo's airport. The Bosnian government had expected the international community to deploy a peacekeeping force following recognition, but it did not materialize in time to prevent war from breaking out across the country.
In the months leading up to the war, JNA forces in the region began to mobilize in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. Artillery, together with other ordnance and equipment that would prove key in the coming siege of the city, was deployed at this time. In April 1992, the Bosnian government under President Alija Izetbegović demanded that the government of Yugoslavia remove these forces. Slobodan Milošević, the president of Serbia, agreed only to withdraw individuals who originated from outside Bosnia's borders, an insignificant number. JNA soldiers who were ethnic Serbs from Bosnia were transferred to the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić, with the VRS having rescinded its allegiance to Bosnia a few days after Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia.
On 2 May 1992, Bosnian Serb forces established a total blockade of the city. They blocked the major access roads, cutting supplies of food and medicine, and also cut off the city's utilities (e.g., water, electricity and heating). Although they possessed superior weaponry they were greatly outnumbered by ARBiH soldiers who were defending the city. After numerous JNA armored columns failed to take the city, the Serbs began to concentrate their efforts on weakening it by using continual bombardment from at least 200 reinforced positions and bunkers in the surrounding hills.
On 3 May 1992, members of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) attacked a convoy of withdrawing Yugoslav National Army (JNA) soldiers on Dobrovoljačka Street in Sarajevo, killing 6 and wounding many more. The attack is thought to have been in retaliation for the arrest of Bosnia's Muslim President Alija Izetbegović, who was detained at Sarajevo Airport by Yugoslav police the previous day.
On 30 August 1992, an artillery shell crashed into a crowded marketplace on the western edge of Sarajevo. The resulting explosion killed 15 people and wounded 100 others. After the attack, foreign observers asserted that Bosnian Muslim troops had deliberately fired artillery against areas populated by their own civilians in an effort to draw international condemnation of the Serbs and foreign support.
On 8 January 1993, Hakija Turajlić, the Deputy Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb soldier. Turajlić, who had gone to Sarajevo airport to greet a Turkish delegation, was returning to the city in a United Nations armored vehicle that had taken him there when a force of two tanks and 40–50 Bosnian Serb soldiers blocked the road and accused the three French soldiers manning the vehicle of transporting "Turkish mujahedeen". In the shooting, six of the seven bullets fired at Turajlić struck him in the chest and arms and he was killed instantly. A Bosnian Serb soldier, Goran Vasić, was eventually charged with Turajlić's murder but was ultimately acquitted of that charge in 2002.
A large number of Sarajevans were killed or wounded throughout the siege. A report on the total number of deaths over a span of 315 days concluded that 2,474 persons died, with an average of approximately eight killed in the city per day. A report on the total number of persons wounded over a span of 306 days concluded that 13,472 were wounded, an average of approximately 44 per day. It should be noted that actual daily casualty numbers in Sarajevo are probably higher than reported, as the varied centralized city casualty counts relied upon may not include many victims who were taken to district morgues and clinics.
The number of people killed or missing in the city is estimated at nearly 10,000. This includes over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 525,980. There are estimates that prior to the siege the population in the city proper was 435,000. Estimates of the current population range between 300,000 and 380,000.
Many Serb civilians living in Sarajevo were killed during the siege by Bosnian Serb rocket and sniper-fire. Of the more than 11,000 Sarajevo civilians killed during the siege, it is estimated that approximately a quarter were Serbs.
The siege affected all sectors of Sarajevo's population. UNICEF reported that of the estimated 65,000 to 80,000 children in the city, at least 40% had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. It is probable that the psychological trauma suffered during the siege will bear heavily on the lives of these children in the years to come.
On 5 December 2003 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted the first commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, General Stanislav Galić, of the shelling and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo, including the first Markale massacre. Galić was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crimes against humanity during the siege. In 2007, General Dragomir Milošević, who replaced Galić as commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, was found guilty of the shelling and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo and its citizens from August 1994 to late 1995, including the second Markale massacre. He was sentenced to 29 years in prison. The ICTY concluded that the Markale town market was hit on 28 August 1995 by a 120 mm mortar shell fired from Sarajevo-Romanija Corps positions.
In 2011, the former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, General Momčilo Perišić, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for aiding and abetting murder because the Yugoslav army under his supervision provided "large-scale logistic support in ammunition, fuel and spare parts" as well as "necessary expert assistance" to the VRS during the siege. According to an estimate of the Main Staff from 1994, the VRS received about 25 million bullets and over 7,500 shells from the Yugoslav army to wage the war in Bosnia. However, the judges ruled that Perišić did not have effective control over the VRS officers, who largely fought independently of his instructions yet still received payment and benefits from Belgrade.
In popular culture
 Songs and Concerts
- Judy Collins's Sarajevo
- "Caído en Sarajevo (Fallen at Sarajevo)", a song by Chilean rock band Arka
- "Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo", a Cantonese pop song by Hong Kong singer Sammi Cheng
- "You Stay Here", a song by American singer songwriter Richard Shindell is based on the Siege of Sarajevo
- "Sarajevo Red Line", memorial event which commemorated the Siege of Sarajevo's 20th anniversary
Musicals and Operas
- Circle, a musical by E. Dino Zonic
- Blasted, a play by Sarah Kane
- The Music Lesson, a play by Tammy Ryan
- "Sniper", devised work by Kerryn Palmer 2004
- The Bosnia Poem: Someone in Sarajevo, poem by Michael Blackburn
- The Cries of Our People – Sarajevo Octets, a book of poetry by Walter Raniowski
- The Bright Lights of Sarajevo, poem by Tony Harrison
- "Why the Dwarf had to be Shot," a book by Sasha Skenderija
Books and Stories
- The Question of Bruno, stories by Aleksandar Hemon
- The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
- Đavo u Sarajevu (Devil in Sarajevo), a book by Nenad Veličković
- Empty Casing: A Soldier's Memoir of Sarajevo Under Siege, a book by Canadian peacekeeper Fred Doucette
- Letters from Sarajevo (Sarajevo: Voci da un assedio 1993), by Anna Cataldi, 1994 (trans. Avril Bardoni) ISBN 1-85230-500-2
- My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary by Nadja Halilbegovich
- No gun for Asmir, a book by Christobel Mattingley
- Pretty Birds, by Scott Simon, 2005 ISBN 1-4000-6310-8
- Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
- Sarajevo, A War Journal, a book by Zlatko Dizdarevic
- Sarajevo Days, Sarajevo Nights, a book by Elma Softic
- Sarajevo, Exodus of a City, a book by Dzevad Karahasan
- Sarajevo Roses, a book by South African UN Peacekeeper Anne-Marie Du Preez Bedroz
- State of Siege, a book by Juan Goytisolo
- Witness from Sarajevo, by Boris Jug
- Short Report from a City Long Besieged (Kratko poročilo iz dolgo obleganega mesta, 1994) by Drago Jančar
- Zlata's Diary, a book by Zlata Filipovic
- The Siege of Sarajevo, a book by Suada Kapic
- My War Gone By, I Miss It So, by Anthony Loyd