By Aynur Ekiz, Ilkay Guder, and Kayhan Gul
The masterwork of Bosnia’s first president is the young country itself, and his chief legacy is his dignity, Turkey’s president said Monday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks came at an event in the capital Ankara commemorating Alija Izetbegovic, the founding leader of modern Bosnia, who passed away 14 years ago last week.
Describing Izetbegovic as “a paragon of self-confidence” and “man of heart,” Erdogan said that he “carried Bosnia in one half of his heart and the entire Islamic world -- from Morocco to Indonesia, and Turkey to Algeria -- in the other.”
"He was a young thinker who was jailed just for being a Muslim, and wove together his views in prison,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan also hailed a new biographical TV show about the Bosnian statesman on Turkish state-run broadcaster TRT, saying, “It will help Alija become better known by a larger number of people”.
"Alija made the struggle to be a Muslim, stay a Muslim, and live as a Muslim from his early life, when [the Bosnia people] witnessed the violence of the Communist regime, to the last moment, when he gave his dying breath at the age of 78. He neither gave up his beliefs nor his culture and Bosnian identity.”
Erdogan cited Alija saying: “I never go to Europe with my head bent because we haven’t killed children, women, or the elderly.”
Erdogan added: “The West did kill and is still killing, from the age of seven to 70."
Hawk and dove
Speaking at the same event, Culture Minister Numan Kurtulmus called Izetbegovic both the “dove of peace talks” and “hawk of the battlefield”.
“On one side is one of the humblest people in the world, on the other side is one of the world's hottest-blooded people standing against enemies and oppressors,” Kurtulmus said.
"Izetbegovic tried to tell the whole world that Muslims and Islam could be a bridge between East and West."
Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, praised Turkey’s help for Bosnia’s economy and infrastructure as well as its EU and NATO membership bids, stressing their importance for Bosnia’s stability and security.
Izetbegovic said appreciating Alija Izetbegovic’s struggle also means appreciating others who devoted their lives to their cause.
"At the end of this struggle, Islam in Bosnia was protected. The Bosniak people were protected and returned to their original identity, religion, and culture,” Izetbegovic said.
Izetbegovic noted that Alija Izetbegovic was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1983, a move “which aimed to end his political career.”