On this day, July 30, 1993, the city of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, opened a window of hope and a lifeline for the city's besieged residents since April 1992, after the Serbian forces took control of the mountains surrounding the city, enabling them to gain fire control of the runway of Sarajevo, Which separated two areas controlled by the Bosnian army (Dubrenia and Butmir), killing about 500 Bosnians by snipers as they tried to cross the runway, to be among the 11,541 people who died as a result of the siege, which is the longest in Europe after World War II.
Here lies the importance of the "life tunnel" whose digging in those circumstances seemed impossible, but it became a reality underground after 104 days of continuous digging, which changed the battle equation, and half a million Bosnians who had two options were saved, either surrendering to the Serbs or dying of starvation.
Al-Jazeera Net met a number of those who lived through these events and participated in digging the life tunnel, the teacher who remained from the Bosnia-Herzegovina war that lasted from March 1992 to November 1995.
, retired general Esmat Hajij, commander of the Doburnia region, said at the time: "Telephone lines were broken, and the enemy was monitoring radio communications. The only way to communicate with military units outside Sarajevo was by our men crossing the tarmac, but we lost many of them by Serb snipers' bullets, so that was The tunnel is, in fact, the lifeline of Sarajevo, especially after the construction of iron bars and the running of vehicles to transport food, medicine and weapons, and the construction of a network to deliver electricity to vital places, then fuel pipes. "
"We were in an asymmetrical battle, and suspicion began to seep into the souls of some of our ability to withstand, but after digging the tunnel, we all realized that Sarajevo would not fall, God willing," he added.
Asked about the tunnel, Serbian General Ratko Miladic said, "We know it and we can destroy it, but we leave it until Muslims cross it from Sarajevo, and we enter it easily." "They did not know us well," General Hajjic said. "On the contrary, we have added new additional forces through the tunnel to support the front lines."
The retired general Fikret Berflij, commander of the Butmir region, confirms that the tunnel was not only a cause of survival for those in Sarajevo, but also those outside it, as those injured in the battles were sent for treatment in Sarajevo, and that the tunnel was used in the field, as Berfillac explains, "Once we were exposed To a violent attack from the Serbs to the point that they reached Mount Igman, so the tunnel crossed military units from Sarajevo, attacked the aggressor forces from behind, so they hurried to escape, and they saved us. "
Those who opened the window of hope and the story is not complete without listening to those who spent long days underground digging the tunnel. Engineer Nusra Khalil Basic, one of them, said, "I was a soldier in Dupornia, one day we gathered the leader, and told us that he had chosen us to participate in a tunneling project, and that this was so secret that no one even the family members should know about him. We worked eight hours a day in shifts, And we used to have a carton full of food, to make us work. My family rejoiced a lot when I came home with that carton, open it and sit together and eat what is in it. ”
"One time, my wife looked at me and said: What God wills, O Nazareth, you eat with great appetite as if you were digging the ground," he says, laughing, "Women have a sixth sense."
"We were working non-stop, we were racing against time to obtain freedom, we were dreaming of the moment when we would meet with our brothers digging from Potemire," Pachic continues his story with the tunnel. He added, "On July 30 we were in the night shift and I realized as an engineer that the meeting might happen tonight. I told my colleagues, they were happy, and we decided to continue working and not hand over the shift to the next group. We wanted to be honored." His eyes are filled with tears, and he says "It was an unforgettable moment."
"In the course of the hard work, there were concerns, and some wondered: What if we were digging apart or in two parallel lines? Our effort would be wasted. I would joke: If this happens we will have two tunnels and not one tunnel."
He continued his speech about the historical moment: "We were digging and just before midnight, we started to hear the sound of pits coming from the other side, the sound began to come closer, our breaths stopped for a moment, we only heard the beats of our hearts, and the sound of the pits approaching. Although we were exhausted from fatigue, But we felt the blood running through our veins again, we started going crazy and knocking on the ground. We were knocking as they were, and it was not more than half an hour until the most beautiful opening I had ever seen opened, it was a small opening, but it was enough to make all of us happy. The hole together, we met, hugged each other, tears mixed with laughter. They gave us food they were carrying with them, in anticipation of our meeting, they were thinking about us all the time, do you believe ?! "
Knowing his mother’s grave
and the human role of the tunnel, Medhat Karic says, “I am emotionally attached to the tunnel, it has become a part of my life, I have been constantly going through the airport runway from Putmir to Sarajevo to visit my mom treating there. After digging the tunnel, I was visiting it more safely” .
"My mother died in January 1994, so I took a permit, and I transferred it through the tunnel to Putmir. It was not easy, but it was buried in the family graves, thank God. If it were not for the tunnel, I wouldn't have known my mother's grave."
The owner of the house is the museum
. As for Adar Kollar, he is the owner of the house that started digging the tunnel from inside. He says, "One day in the month of April 1993 some officials visited us and told my father that they needed our house located directly behind the airport, which we left because of the seriousness of its location, to use it for a security purpose, and agreed My father immediately, and we decided to stay at home to be at the service of the workers, as my grandmother joined us, she was preparing coffee and food for the diggers, and after operating the tunnel she was receiving arrivals from Sarajevo through the tunnel, and provided them with water and some candy. "
And about the strangest things that happened in the tunnel, Kollar says to Al-Jazeera Net, "In 1994, on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, hundreds of sheep were entered through the tunnel, but it was not easy," and he laughed. "The officials relied on the theory that the herd follows the ram, the leader of the herd, so they entered the ram first, But they were surprised that the rest of the sheep refused to follow him to the tunnel, they tried in every way but they failed, so they had to carry all the sheep to the beginning of the tunnel, then let him walk alone.
Celebrity messages to the world
The war stopped, and Kollar's house turned into a museum, a destination for tourists to experience details of the tale of the tunnel that saved a city. And the tunnel remains to send his messages to the world through the famous politicians and society who visit him, as well as art stars, such as Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Orlando Bloom, Juliet Pinoche, and others, who visited the tunnel, recorded their impressions, and from the tunnel they sent their messages to the world.
Kevin Spacey: With my humble regards to those who helped make this tunnel possible.
Robert De Niro: To the Tunnel of Great Hope, you are amazing, you deserve more admiration than Robert De Niro.
Orlando Bloom: Bow down modestly, war is not the answer. Let's never forget. There is a lot to learn from brave and courageous people in Sarajevo! Thanks a lot, and all the respect!
Juliette Binoche: How amazing can a person do at his best to resist the worst. Bravo Sarajevo!