Alija Izetbegović

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Alija Izetbegović
1st Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina
In office
5 October 1996 – 15 October 2000
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Halid Genjac
Chairman of the Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
In office
20 December 1990 – 5 October 1996
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Halid Genjac
Personal details
Born (1925-08-08)8 August 1925
Bosanski Šamac, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
Died 19 October 2003(2003-10-19) (aged 78)
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Resting place Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Nationality Bosniak
Political party Party of Democratic Action
Other political
Young Muslims
Spouse(s) Halida Izetbegović[1] (until 2003)
Melika Salihbegović[1] (until 2003)
Amira Kapetanović[1] (1993–2003)
Children Bakir Izetbegović (son)
Lejla Akšamija (daughter)
Sabina Berberović (daughter)
Alma mater Faculty of Law in Sarajevo
Occupation Politician, Islamic activist
Profession Lawyer
Religion Sunni Islam

Alija Izetbegović (Bosnian pronunciation: [ǎlija ǐzedbegoʋit͡ɕ]; 8 August 1925 – 19 October 2003) was a Bosnian politician, activist, lawyer, author, and philosopher who in 1990 became the first Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He served in this role until 1996, when he became a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, serving until 2000. He was also the author of several books, most notably Islam Between East and West and the Islamic Declaration.

Early life[edit]

Alija Izetbegović was born on 8 August 1925 in the northern Bosnian town of Bosanski Šamac.[2] He was one of five children—two sons and three daughters—born to Mustafa and Hiba Izetbegović. His was a distinguished but impoverished family descended from former Bosniak (or Bosnian Muslim) aristocrat family of Izet-bey Jahić from Belgrade who had fled to Bosnia in 1868, following the withdrawal of the last Ottoman troops from Serbia. While serving as a soldier in Üsküdar, Izetbegović's grandfather Alija married a Turkish woman named Sıdıka Hanım. The couple eventually moved to Bosanski Šamac and had five children. The grandfather later became the town's mayor, and reportedly saved forty Serbs from execution at the hands of Austro-Hungarian authorities following Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914.[3]

Izetbegović's father, an accountant, had fought for the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Italian Front during World War I and sustained serious injuries which left him in a semi-paralyzed state for at least a decade. He declared bankruptcy in 1927. The following year, the family moved to Sarajevo, where Izetbegović received a secular education.[4]

During World War II, when Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of the Nazi puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia, Izetbegović joined an Islamic organization called the Young Muslims (Mladi Muslimani). When the Young Muslims became torn between supporting the largely Muslim Waffen-SS Handschar Division or the communist Yugoslav Partisans, Izetbegović decided to support the SS division.[1] During the Nazi occupation, Izetbegović had been a recruiter for the SS Handschar Division.[5] Izetbegović was detained by the Serb royalist Chetniks in mid-1944 but released out of gratitude for his grandfather's role in securing the release of the forty Serb hostages in 1914.[3] He was arrested by the Yugoslav communists following the war and sentenced to three years in prison in 1946, not for collaboration but because he was opposed to Josip Broz Tito's regime.[6] Before incarceration, he had earned a law degree at the University of Sarajevo's Faculty of Law.[7] He remained engaged in politics after serving the sentence.[8] Izetbegović was married four times. He had a son, Bakir, who also entered politics, as well as two daughters.[1]

Dissident and activist[edit]

In 1970, Izetbegović published a manifesto entitled the Islamic Declaration, expressing his views on relationships between Islam, state and society. The authorities interpreted the declaration as a call for introduction of Sharia law in Bosnia, and banned the publication.[9] The declaration remains a source of controversy. Serbs, who were opposed to Izetbegović, often quoted the declaration as indicative of an intent to create an Iranian style Muslim republic in Bosnia.[9] Passages from the declaration were frequently quoted by Izetbegović's opponents during the 1990s, who considered it to be an open statement of Islamic fundamentalism.[10] The opinion is shared by some Western authors such as John Schindler.[11] Indeed, in his book, Izetbegović praised Pakistan as a model for Bosnian society and declared that "there can be no peace or co-existance between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic societies and political institutions".[5]

Izetbegović vigorously denied such accusations.[9] British author Noel Malcolm asserted that the Serb nationalist interpretation of the Declaration was false propaganda and offered a more benevolent reading.[12] Explaining that it was "a general treatise on politics and Islam, directed towards the entire Muslim world; it is not about Bosnia and does not even mention Bosnia" and that "none of these points can be described as fundamentalist". Malcolm argues that Izetbegović's views were much more thoroughly expressed in his later book, Islam between East and West, where he presented Islam as a kind of spiritual and intellectual synthesis which included the values of West Europe."[12] In this book, Islam between East and West, Izetbegović claims that Islam, as a world-view, religion, a view and way of life, is vastly superior to all intellectual and spiritual alternatives, including philosophical, religious, ethical and political ones.[13]


In April 1983, Izetbegović and twelve other Bosniak activists (including Melika Salihbegović, Edhem Bičakčić, Omer Behmen, Mustafa Spahić and Hasan Čengić) were tried before a Sarajevo court for a variety of charges called "offences as principally hostile activity inspired by Muslim nationalism, association for purposes of hostile activity and hostile propaganda". Izetbegović was further accused of organizing a visit to a Muslim congress in Iran. All of those tried were convicted and Izetbegović was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.[citation needed]

The verdict was strongly criticised by Western human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, which claimed that the case was based on "communist propaganda", and the accused were not charged with either using or advocating violence. The following May, the Bosnian Supreme Court conceded the point with an announcement that "some of the actions of the accused did not have the characteristics of criminal acts" and reduced Izetbegović's sentence to twelve years. In 1988, as communist rule faltered, he was pardoned and released after almost five years in prison. His health had suffered serious damage.[8]


Izetbegović's idea about an Islamic religious and Muslim national party was realised when the Party of Democratic Action was founded in Sarajevo on 26 May 1990. It was a party of "Muslim cultural-historic circle". Founded in a communist SFR Yugoslavia, Izetbegović advocated full religious freedom for all in Yugoslavia, while the SDA's founding convention released a declaration on religious liberty as a fundamental precondition for a democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina.[14]

Izetbegović pursued Bosnian nationalism with a strong religious dimension. One of his first foreign visits was to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. uring the first multiparty elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Izetbegović continued to use Islam as the principal force of homogenisation and mobilisation of Bosnian Muslims. He organised his election campaign with the help of the Muslim clergy.[15]

Bosnia's power-sharing arrangements broke down very quickly as ethnic tensions grew after the outbreak of fighting between Serbs and Croats in neighboring Croatia. Although Izetbegović was to due to hold the presidency for only one year according to the constitution, this arrangement was initially suspended due to "extraordinary circumstances" and was eventually abandoned altogether during the war as the Serb and Croat nationalistic parties SDS and HDZ abandoned the government. When fighting broke out in Slovenia and Croatia in the summer of 1991, it was immediately apparent that Bosnia would soon become embroiled in the conflict. Izetbegović initially proposed a loose confederation to preserve a unitary Bosnian state and strongly urged a peaceful solution. He did not subscribe to the peace at all costs view and commented in February 1991 that I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina ... but for that peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina I would not sacrifice sovereignty. By the start of 1992 it had become apparent that the rival nationalist demands were fundamentally incompatible: the Bosniaks and Croats sought an independent Bosnia while the Serbs wanted it to remain in a rump Yugoslavia dominated by Serbia. Izetbegović publicly complained that he was being forced to ally with one side or the other, vividly characterising the dilemma by comparing it to having to choose between leukaemia and a brain tumour.[16]

In January 1992, Portuguese diplomat José Cutileiro drafted a plan, later known as the Lisbon Agreement, that would turn Bosnia into a triethnic cantonal state. Initially, all three sides signed up to the agreement; Izetbegović for the Bosniaks, Radovan Karadžić for the Serbs and Mate Boban for the Croats. Some two weeks later, however, Izetbegović withdrew his signature and declared his opposition to any type of partition of Bosnia, supposedly encouraged by Warren Zimmermann, the United States Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time.[17]

Bosnian War[edit]

Main article: Bosnian War
HDZ leader Stjepan Kljuić, SDS leader Radovan Karadžić, and SDA leader Izetbegović in Sarajevo, 1992

In February 1992, Izetbegović called a national referendum on independence for Bosnia as a European condition for recognition of Bosnia as an independent state, despite warnings from the Serbian members of the presidency that any move to independence would result in the Serbian-inhabited areas of Bosnia seceding to remain with the rump Yugoslavia. The referendum was boycotted by Serbs, who regarded it as an unconstitutional move, but achieved a 99.4% vote in favour on a 67% turnout (almost entirely constituted of Bosniaks and Croats).[citation needed]

The Bosnian parliament, already vacated by the Bosnian Serbs, formally declared independence from Yugoslavia on 29 February and Izetbegović announced the country's independence on 3 March. It did not take effect until 7 April 1992, when the European Union and United States recognised the new country. Sporadic fighting between Serbs and government forces occurred across Bosnia in the run-up to international recognition. Izetbegović appears to have gambled that the international community would send a peacekeeping force upon recognising Bosnia in order to prevent a war, but this did not happen. Instead, war immediately broke out across the country as Serb and Yugoslav Army forces took control of large areas of Bosnia against the opposition of poorly-equipped government security forces. Initially the Serb forces attacked non-Serb civilian population in Eastern Bosnia. Once towns and villages were securely in their hands, the Serb forces – the military, the police, the paramilitaries and, sometimes, even Serb villagers – applied the same pattern: Bosniak houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burnt down, Bosniak civilians were rounded up or captured, and sometimes beaten or killed in the process. Men and women were separated, with many of the men detained in the camps. The women were kept in various detention centres where they had to live in intolerably unhygienic conditions, where they were mistreated in many ways including being raped repeatedly. Serb soldiers or policemen would come to these detention centres, select one or more women, take them out and rape them.[18]

During the war, along with his paean multi-culturalism, Izetbegović spelled out a key concept of expansionist Islam: that it "should and must start taking over the power as soon as it is morally and numerically strong enough to not only overthrow the existing non-Islamic, but also to build up a new Islamic authority".[5] The Bosnian Croats, disillusioned with the Sarajevo government and supported militarily and financially by the Croatian government, increasingly turned to establishing their own ethnically-based state of Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia in Herzegovina and Central Bosnia. The Croats pulled out of the Sarajevo government and fighting broke out in 1993. In most areas local armistices were signed between the Serbs and Croats (Kreševo, Vareš, Jajce). Croat forces launched their first attacks on Bosniaks in Gornji Vakuf and Novi Travnik, towns in Central Bosnia on June 1992, but these attacks failed.[citation needed] The Graz agreement caused deep division among Croats and strengthened the separatist group, which led to the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosniak civilians. The campaign planned by the self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia's political and military leadership from May 1992 to March 1993 and erupting the following April, was meant to implement objectives set forth by Croat nationalists in November 1991.[19][20][21]

Adding to the general confusion, Izetbegović's former colleague Fikret Abdić established an Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia in parts of Cazin and Velika Kladuša municipalities in opposition to the Sarajevo government and in cooperation with Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman. Abdić's faction was eventually routed by the Bosnian Army. By this time, Izetbegović's government controlled only about 25% of the country and represented principally the Bosniak community.[citation needed]

For three and a half years, Izetbegović lived precariously in a besieged Sarajevo surrounded by Serb forces. He denounced the failure of Western countries to reverse Serbian aggression and turned instead to the Muslim world, with which he had already established relations during his days as a dissident. The Bosnian government received money and arms. Arab volunteers came across Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the Bosnian Army. They were organized into detachment called El-Mudžahid. The number of the El-Mudžahid volunteers is still disputed, from around 300[22] to 1,500.[22] Foreign fighters, styling themselves mujahiddin, turned up in Bosnia around 1993 with Croatian identity documents and passports.

In 1993, Izetbegović agreed to a peace plan that would divide Bosnia along ethnic lines but continued to insist on a unitary Bosnia government from Sarajevo and on the allocation to the Bosniaks of a large percentage of Bosnia's territory. The war between the Bosniaks and Croats was eventually ended by a truce brokered with the aid of the Americans in March 1994, following which the two sides collaborated more closely against the Serbs. NATO then became increasingly involved in the conflict with occasional "pinprick" bombings conducted against the Bosnian Serbs, generally following violations of ceasefires and the no-fly zone over Bosnia. The Bosnian Croat forces benefited indirectly from the military training given to the Croatian Army by the American military consultancy Military Professional Resources, Inc. In addition, the Croatians provided considerable quantities of weaponry to the Bosnian Croats and much smaller amounts to the Bosnian Army, despite a UN weapons embargo. Most of the Bosnian Army's supply of weapons was air-lifted from the Muslim world, specifically Iran – an issue which became the subject of some controversy and a US congressional investigation in 1996. In September 1993, the Congress of Bosniak Intellectuals (Drugi bošnjački sabor) officially re-introduced the historical ethnic name Bosniaks. The Yugoslav "Muslim by nationality" policy was considered by Bosniaks to be neglecting and opposing their Bosnian identity because the term tried to describe Bosniaks as a religious group not an ethnic one.[23]

Ending the war[edit]

US President Bill Clinton meeting with Izetbegovic in Tuzla, Bosnia, 1997

In August 1995, following the Srebrenica massacre and the 2nd Markale massacre, NATO launched intensive bombing campaign which destroyed Bosnian Serb command and control system. This allowed the Croatian and Bosniak forces to overrun many Serb-held areas of the country, producing a roughly 50/50 split of the territory between the two sides. The offensive came to a halt not far from the de facto Serb capital of Banja Luka. When the Croat and Bosniak forces stopped their advance they had captured the power plants supplying Banja Luka's electricity and used that control to pressure the Serb leadership into accepting a cease fire. The parties agreed to meet at Dayton, Ohio to negotiate a peace treaty under the supervision of the United States. Serbian and Croatian interests were represented by Milošević and Tuđman, respectively. Izetbegović represented the internationally recognised Bosnian Government.[24][full citation needed]

After the war[edit]

Alija Izetbegović's grave in Sarajevo

After the Bosnian War was formally ended by the Dayton peace accord in November 1995, Izetbegović became a Member of Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His party's power declined after the international community installed a High Representative to oversee affairs of state, with more power than the Presidency or parliaments of either the Bosniak-Croat or Serb entities. He stepped down in October 2000 at the age of 74, citing his bad health. However, Izetbegović remained popular with the Bosniak public, who nicknamed him Dedo (which in Bosnian means grandfather). His endorsement helped his party to bounce back in the 2002 elections.[citation needed]

For his service to Islam, he was awarded by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai with one million dirham ($272,480) prize in 2001. Two months later, the 9/11 attacks revealed how complicit Izetbegović and his government had been in allowing al-Qaeda to expand in Europe through the Bosnian mujahideen.[5] Bosnia and Herzegovina had become one of al-Qaeda's most important European assets.[25]


He died in October 2003 of heart disease complicated by injuries suffered from a fall at home. An ICTY investigation of Izetbegović was in progress, but ended with his death.[26][27] Following his death there was an initiative to rename a part of the main street of Sarajevo from Ulica Maršala Tita (Marshal Tito Street) and the Sarajevo International Airport in his honour. Following objections from politicians from Republika Srpska, the international community, and UN envoy Paddy Ashdown, both initiatives failed.[28] On 11 August 2006, Izetbegović's grave at the Kovači cemetery in Sarajevo was badly damaged by a bomb. The identity of the bomber or bombers has not been determined.[29]


In October 2006, his son Bakir (born 1956) was elected to a four-year term in the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a representative of the SDA. Four years later, in October 2010, he too was elected to the Presidency as the Bosniak member.[citation needed]


Available in English

  • Islam Between East and West, Alija Ali Izetbegović, American Trust Publications, 1985 (also ABC Publications, 1993)
  • Inescapable Questions: Autobiographical Notes, 'Alija Izetbegović, The Islamic Foundation, 2003
  • Izetbegović of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Notes from Prison, 1983–1988, Alija Izetbegović, Greenwood Press, 2001
  • Notes From Prison – 1983–1988
  • The Islamic Declaration, Alija Izetbegović, s.n., 1991

Available in Bosnian

  • Govori i pisma, Alija Izetbegović, SDA, 1994
  • Rat i mir u Bosni i Hercegovini (Biblioteka Posebna izdanja), Alija Izetbegović, Vijeće Kongresa bosnjackih intelektualaca, 1998
  • Moj bijeg u slobodu: Biljeske iz zatvora 1983–1988 (Biblioteka Refleksi), Alija Izetbegović, Svjetlost, 1999
  • Islamska deklaracija (Mala muslimanska biblioteka), Alija Izetbegović, Bosna, 1990


  1. ^ a b c d e Binder, David (20 October 2003). "Alija Izetbegovic, Muslim Who Led Bosnia, Dies at 78". New York Times. 
  2. ^ Hamilton 2014, p. 150.
  3. ^ a b Shay 2007, p. 40.
  4. ^ "Alija Izetbegović: Introduction". Alija Izetbegović Museum. Retrieved 15 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d Deliso 2007, p. 5.
  6. ^ Hoare 2014, p. 12.
  7. ^ Bartrop 2012, p. 140.
  8. ^ a b Nedžad Latić, Boja povijesti, ISBN COBISS.BH-ID
  9. ^ a b c "Obituary: Alija Izetbegović". BBC. 19 October 2003. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  10. ^ "Alija Izetbegović, Muslim Who Led Bosnia, Dies at 78", New York Times, 20 October 2003
  11. ^ John R. Schindler, Zenith Press (2007)
  12. ^ a b Noel Malcolm. Bosnia: a short history. 
  13. ^ Pehar 2011, p. 150.
  14. ^ Perica 2004, p. 87.
  15. ^ Perica 2004, p. 88.
  16. ^ After the Peace by Robert L. Rothstein; ISBN 1-55587-828-8; ISBN 978-1-55587-828-3
  17. ^ YouTube
  18. ^ "ICTY: The attack against the civilian population and related requirements". 
  19. ^ "ICTY: Blaškić verdict – A. The Lasva Valley: May 1992 – January 1993". 
  20. ^ "ICTY (1995): Initial indictment for the ethnic cleansing of the Lasva Valley area – Part II". 
  21. ^ "ICTY: Summary of sentencing judgement for Miroslav Bralo". 
  23. ^ Historija Bošnjaka by Mustafa Imamović (1996), Sarajevo: BZK Preporod; ISBN 9958-815-00-1
  24. ^ Dianna Johnstone. Fool's Crusade, London: 2002 [ISBN missing]
  25. ^ Deliso 2007, p. 6.
  26. ^ "Bosnia leader was war crimes suspect". BBC. 22 October 2003. 
  27. ^ "Dead Bosnia Hero Focus of War Crimes Inquiry". New York Times. 23 October 2003. 
  28. ^ Bajramovic, Dino (21 February 2005). "Street Name Change Splits Bosnian Capital". Institute for War & Peace Reporting. 
  29. ^ "Izetbegović grave damaged". BBC News. 11 August 2006. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 


  • Bartrop, Paul (2012). A Biographical Encyclopedia of Contemporary Genocide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313386794. 
  • Deliso, Christopher (2007). The Coming Balkan Caliphate: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780275995256. 
  • Hamilton, Neil A. (2014). "Izetbegović, Alija". In Hall, Richard C. ar in the Balkans: An Encyclopedic History from the Fall of the Ottoman Empire to the Breakup of Yugoslavia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610690317. 
  • Hoare, Marko Attila (2014). Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199327850. 
  • Pehar, Dražen (2011). Alija Izetbegović and the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar: HKD Napredak. ISBN 9789958841057. 
  • Perica, Vjekoslav (2004). Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195174298. 
  • Shay, Shaul (2007). Islamic Terror and the Balkans. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412809313. 


Political offices
Preceded by
Nijaz Duraković
Chairman of the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Post created
Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Succeeded by
Živko Radišić
Tripartite presidency