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[Fwd: H-ISLAMART:Islamic architectural heritage destroyed in Kosovo[Andras Riedlmayer]]
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- Subject: [Fwd: H-ISLAMART:Islamic architectural heritage destroyed in Kosovo[Andras Riedlmayer]]
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- Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 17:53:53 +0000
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While this article is not specifically about bookbinding, I decided to post
this to the list anyways, since I think it will be of interest. It concerns
the important cultural monuments that were recently destroyed in Kosovo,
including the important Fatih Sultan Mehmed Kutuphanesi- the library of Sultan
Mehmed II which contained many irreplacable manuscripts.
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Reply-To: H-Net List for the History of Islamic Art and Architecture
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From: Alan Fisher <email@example.com>
Subject: H-ISLAMART:Islamic architectural heritage destroyed in Kosovo
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 00:10:23 -0400 (EDT)
From: Andras Riedlmayer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As NATO peacekeeping forces establish a security presence in Kosovo and
foreign reporters return, there is now the opportunity to check out on the
ground the accounts of refugees concerning the events of the past several
months. Every day has brought new accounts of the discovery of mass graves
and other evidence of terrible crimes against humanity.
Members of H-ISLAMART may be interested in what is now being discovered
in Kosovo concerning the deliberate destruction of cultural and religious
heritage, which is not only an attack on the common patrimony of mankind,
but also a war crime under international law.
Those interested, can find explanations and texts of international
conventions regarding the protected status of cultural property in the
event of armed conflict at the following sites:
"The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property
in the Event of Armed Conflict,"
By W. Hays Parks, Chief, International Law Branch, Office of
the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army
Article 16 (Protection of cultural objects and of places of worship)
of the 1997 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of
12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of
Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II)
Text of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property
in the Event of Armed Conflict (with commentaries & related treaties):
Although the month since the end of NATO's air campaign has brought a
flood of reporting from Kosovo, there have been few stories focusing on
cultural destruction as such. This is due both to the urgency and drama
of human interest stories and to the difficulty of reporting on a subject
about which most reporters are not well informed.
Nevertheless, information pieced together from media reports and from
e-mail messages received from friends and colleagues working for NGOs
in Kosovo reveals a tragic pattern of destruction.
Overall, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 40 percent
of houses in Kosovo have been destroyed and another 20 percent damaged.
Contrary to some allegations aired during the past three months, on-site
investigations have confirmed that the overwhelming majority of the
destruction was from the ground up (i.e. houses blown up or burned down
by Serb forces) rather than due to NATO aerial bombardment.
The pattern of destruction has been uneven. Historic urban centers,
including the old cities of Pec (Albanian Peja, Turk. Ipek), Djakovica
(Alb. Gjakova, Turk. Yakova), and Vucitrn (the seat of Ottoman provincial
governors in the 15th century) have been gutted.
80 percent of all buildings in Pec, including the entire old city center,
were systematically destroyed by Serbian police, who also burned five
of the city's historic mosques. The fortified mansions (kula) of Pec's
old Albanian families, dating from the 17th-19th c., were also sacked and
burned, as was the surrounding bazaar. A news agency photo taken July 5
shows the burned-out interior of the Bayrakli Mosque (Mosque of Sultan
Muhammed the Conqueror, built ca. 1460) in Pec, torched by uniformed
Serbian police on June 11, just before the arrival of Italian NATO troops.
Pre-war photos showing the same mosque interior (incl. the painted wall
decorations, carpets and carved woodwork) before its destruction can be
seen in Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi, _Avrupa'da Osmanli mimari eserleri, III./3
Yugoslavya_ [Ottomanarchitectural monuments in Europe: Yugoslavia]
(Istanbul, 1981), plates R.935-R.936. The Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate
complex in Pec survived the war intact, as did other Orthodox Christian
monasteries and churches.
The entire historic center of Djakovica (Alb. Gjakova) was burned by Serb
police and paramilitaries using flame-throwers during the first days of
the NATO air campaign (March 24-25). In the center of the burned market
district, the splendid 16th-century Mosque of Hadim Suleyman Aga (known
locally as the Hadum Mosque) was also burned out, the top of its minaret
shot off with a rocket-propelled grenade. Adjacent to the mosque, the
library of Hadim Suleyman Aga, with hundreds of Islamic manuscripts, was
burned down with flame-throwers. Only the Serbian Orthodox church in this
99-percent Albanian city of 100,000 still stands intact among the ruins.
A team of forensic experts from the American FBI has spent the past month
in Djakovica assisting the UN war crimes tribunal in its investigations.
The have described the old town as a vast crime scene, with the charred
remains of hundreds of residents murdered by Serb paramilitary troops
entombed in the ruins of their homes and shops.
Some recent photos showing the destruction in Djakovica:
A journalist friend wrote in an e-mail message from Kosovo on June 30th:
Sad for me was to be in Peja (Pec) last week
and learn that the town mosque "Hadzi Zeka"(sp?)
was reduced to rubble as late as 11 June at 8am (I
talked to a man who said he saw the Serb police
burn it that day), and then go on around 12pm the
same day to burn the Hamam Djami(sp), all part of the
destroyed old town. Peja and Gjakova (Djakovica) are
really shocking, because the communist-era buildings
encircling the old town stand, while they particularly
destroyed the beautiful old parts, the hearts of the cities.
The incredibly beautiful painted mosque in the center
of Gjakova has also been destroyed along with the old
wooden town around it, and the mosque rubble is mined,
I was told by locals. It was destroyed earlier, however,
around 24/25 March, according to people I spoke with there.
In the Kosovo capital Prishtina, at least one 16th-century mosque was
reportedly burned down and several others badly damaged, while the library
of the Fatih Mosque was set ablaze by uniformed Serbs on June 13, 1999,
the day NATO forces rolled into town. In Vucitrn, the Charshi Mosque,
the Gazi Ali Bey Mosque and the Kahramanlar Mosque (all 14th-15th century
foundations) were burned, the ruins dynamited and bulldozed.
Flattened rubble and the stump of a marble minaret are all
that remain of the 300-year-old Qarshi [Market] mosque
in this northern Kosovo town, just a small part of the
wasteland left behind by the last Serb forces that pulled
out of the province yesterday.
The bulldozer used to level the mosque and surrounding buildings
stands abandoned next to the scar of bricks and stone in the
heart of Vucitrn, a town founded by the Romans that grew
prosperous under the rule of the Ottoman empire. The Serbs
used explosives to topple the minarets of two other mosques
"They tried to wipe out our Moslem history," said Abdullah
Muliaku, an elderly ethnic Albanian, who in faltering French
described himself as the keeper of historic archives. He said
Serb forces destroyed the three mosques on March 27, three days
after Nato launched its air offensive.
Much of Vucitrn, once a town of 12,000 people, lies in
blackened ruins. Behind the high walls that line muddy lanes,
house after house has been gutted by fire. But with the arrival
of French peacekeeping forces on Thursday, the ethnic Albanian
population of Vucitrn has come down - on foot or with tractors
and horse-drawn carts - from the nearby Cicavica mountains
to discover what is left.
"You can erase buildings but you cannot destroy a people,"
said Mr Muliaku. It appears, however, that the Serb
paramilitaries tried to do just that in Vucitrn, as in
so many other dark corners of Kosovo now being exposed.
The worst single massacre in Vucitrn occurred on May 22 when,
according to survivors, Samadregja Street was sealed off and
70 men were herded into several courtyards.
Ajmonda Ferati, 33, described how men were separated from women,
including her brother, uncle and cousin. Outside in the lane,
masked paramilitaries robbed the women of their money and
jewellery, while screams could be heard from behind the walls.
All that is now left are bloodstains on the grass and paths,
a pair of dentures in the mud.
(Guy Dinmore, "Kosovars claim Serbs tried to wipe out
their history," Financial Times (London), 21 June 1999)
The old market district in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica was also
burned and bulldozed, along with the old market mosque. Journalists who
have visited villages in rural areas of Kosovo also describe destroyed
mosques, often in places where mass graves have been found. In April-May
1999, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights conducted interviews with
several thousand heads of households randomly selected from among refugees
from all parts of Kosovo found that almost half of them had personally
witnessed the deliberate destruction of mosques.
Among Kosovo's historic urban centres, Prizren was the only one that was
spared major destruction -- according to a Serbian document found in the
city's police station by German KFOR troops, the reason was lack of time:
Prizren had been scheduled for systematic "cleansing" and demolition in
mid-June. Fortunately, it appears time ran out for the "ethnic cleansers"
as the end of hostilities and the timely arrival of NATO troops saved the
old city center of Prizren, its 16 historic mosques and other Ottoman-era
In the face of this barbaric destruction of cultural heritage, what can
we do in our capacity as scholars and professionals? That is a question
to which I hope members of this list will give some serious thought.
Please post your responses to the list.
Meanwhile, I offer these thoughts and suggestions for discussion --
* As far as I've heard so far, there is no effort underway to
systematically document what has been destroyed in Kosovo. What can
we do to get one started?
During the 1991-1995 wars in Croatia and Bosnia, the Committee on Culture
and Education of the European Parliament responded to what they termed "a
cultural catastrophe" by commissioning expert rapporteurs to do on-site
assessments. Due to ongoing hostilities, the Council of Europe rapporteurs
had limited access to some areas -- and no cooperation from UNPROFOR or
other international bodies -- in Bosnia, but they still managed to collect
That documentation was published in a series of _Information Reports
on the Destruction by War of the Cultural Heritage in Croatia and
Bosnia-Herzegovina_ as an official document of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Four years after the end of that war, these reports remain an essential
resource for war crimes prosecutions and serve as a basis for planning
the protection and rehabilitation of damaged and threatened monuments
Our colleagues in European countries may wish to approach their elected
representatives at the European parliament, their own governments, or
appropriate non-governmental organizations that may be willing to sponsor
on-site assessments of the state of cultural property in Kosovo.
Unlike the situation in 1991-95, there is no ongoing conflict in Kosovo
at present, which simplifies the task of carrying out site inspections.
What is needed is a sponsoring body and experts willing to carry out
* The task of documenting the state of cultural heritage is particularly
urgent because a variety of agencies -- most of which have no specialized
knowledge of or concern with heritage protection -- are already beginning
the process of reconstruction. With hundreds of thousands of people in
need of shelter before the onset of winter, reconstruction of housing
has to be a top priority in Kosovo. But in places such as Pec/Peja and
Djakovica/Gjakova, where the destroyed housing was primarily located in
well-preserved historic city centers, there is a real danger that the
process of rebuilding may also compound the damage and contribute to
the destruction of heritage.
* In the case of religious buildings, there is also a danger that Islamic
aid agencies based in oil-rich countries may use their monetary clout in
order to impose their own peculiar sectarian agenda in dictating the terms
and forms of reconstruction. There are worrisome precedents for this in
Bosnia and in other parts of the Balkans, where Saudi-funded assistance
projects have produced unfortunate results, including in some cases the
demolition of salvageable historic structures and the transformation of
buildings that reflect local cultural and religious traditions in order
to fit alien notions of what constitutes "proper" Islamic architecture.
It is important that those of us who care about the preservation of
historic architecture and urban fabrics make our voices heard. We should
consider what we can do to contribute our expertise in order to record
this endangered heritage and to help in planning its reconstruction.
Above all, we must make sure that our concerns are heard by the agencies
that will fund and carry out reconstruction and conservation projects
in Kosovo. Any ideas and suggestions would be very welcome.