Bit by bit, in almost impossibly difficult circumstances, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina came into being. The main problem was the lack of arms, and the arms embargo for the former Yugoslavia proclaimed by the UN Security Council rubbed salt into the wound. The Bosnian government repeatedly pointed out the absurdity of this resolution: the aggressors already had more arms than they could use, so that the embargo affected only the victims.
Despite this, the Army was being armed, to some extent at least. The full details will probably never be known, but the embargo was breached on several occasions with the tacit agreement of certain western governments, including the US. A key arms delivery was a shipload from Iran which docked in the port of Ploče, whereupon Tuđman ordered that half the arms be immediately unloaded for the Croatian Army; still more were lost when, on the way to central Bosnia, the Croatian Defence Council relieved the load of another 25 percent. Despite being drastically reduced, this quantity of arms was crucial to the defence of certain stretches of the front.
The arming of the Bosnian military is in fact a thrilling story of its people’s courage, persistence and ingenuity. As Alija Izetbegović described it for Stern, the German newspaper, towards the end of the war, “Two processes evolved side by side from the start of the war. We were becoming stronger day by day, and they were becoming weaker. They did not form a straight line on the graph, nor did they proceed at the same speed, but the general trend was as I have just described it. Our infantry has been better than theirs for a long time. Or, to put it another way, our handicap was heavy weapons, artillery; theirs was the infantry. There will be more unpleasant surprises for us and for them, but overall we have reached a state of equilibrium and taken the initiative. The equilibrium is strategic in nature, while for now the initiative is merely tactical. How can one explain our successes in Bihać, Kupres, Sarajevo? There are numerous factors, but the most important one of all, the question of morale, does not lend itself to analysis. Our people have the single-minded inner resolve to survive, a nation that had been condemned to death.”
Alija Izetbegović, that seemingly fragile man with such deep religious sentiments, had so many things to deal with during the war in Bosnia, as this passage from his biography vividly illustrates, in his own words: “The need for arms led us into all kinds of adventures. Once when I was in Brussels, I don’t remember the date, I was told that certain people had offered to procure arms for us with which we could effectively target Karadžić’s troops holding Sarajevo under siege. They would supply us with two special armoured helicopters and some missiles. It was a very attractive offer, for we had already been trapped for more than 500 days, exposed to random mortar and sniper fire day and night. There seemed no end to our misfortunes. When I received them, these unknown people offered to land helicopters with precision missiles on Mt Igman and the Zenica Stadium on a given night. There were two of them, of rather innocuous appearance. They did not introduce themselves, saying only that they were from South Africa and that they operated world-wide. They laid down two conditions: first, they wanted cash, to be paid the moment our people confirmed that the helicopters had landed at the agreed sites; and second, that before delivery we agree to their taking one of our men as hostage to an unidentified location, as a guarantee that we wouldn’t trick them. They suggested that the entire business be conducted at one of our embassies in Europe, and that the hostage be our chargé d’affaires there. After much haggling, we agreed to their first condition but not to the second. They then said the money should be brought in and handed over the moment our people confirmed that the consignment had reached its destination. Arms dealers, along with drugs mafiosi, are some of the most unscrupulous and dangerous people, ready for anything to acquire their illicit gains. But if you wanted arms, they were the only people you could buy them from. We told our connection in Istanbul to procure the money and courier it to our embassy in this European city. The dealers arrived at the agreed time, saying that the operation was ready to go and that the helicopters, which were to take off from a base in Italy, could be over the destination in Bosnia at around midnight. Our chargé d’affaires and our courier, complete with the cash, were sitting in one corner of the room, the dealers in another. I don’t know who was more scared: our people of them, or they of us. Our people were afraid, naturally enough, that the dealers, in typical gangster style, would go for them and grab the cash; guns cocked, they were on high alert. Just in case, the dealers were told that guards had been posted in the corridors and at the entrance to the embassy. The dealers kept calling someone on their mobiles. Our man later told me, “Eleven o’clock struck, then midnight, then one, two, three. We stared unblinkingly at each other, watching every move. About dawn, they asked permission to leave the room to check, saying something was wrong. They left, and never came back.”
It remains a mystery whether they were really arms dealers whose operation failed as a result of some unforeseen developments, or just con men trying to get hold of some easy money. Be that as it may, General Delić in Zenica and a group of officers waited in vain beside burning fires, waiting from a miracle from heaven; but the miracle never came. I too had a sleepless night, sitting up by the telephone.”
The permanent museum exhibition is located in the towers Kapi-kula Ploča and Širokac. In the Ploča tower, the life of Alija Izetbegović as statesman and politician is displayed on chronologically arranged exhibition boards, accompanied by text and photographs. In the Širokac tower, the exhibition is dedicated to Izetbegović's role as the Supreme Commander in the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Serbian agression.
Established in the recent times, the Museum „Alija Izetbegović“ offers modern answers to questions from the past, but also sets the foundation for the future. Through its objective scientific approach, it encourages young people, intellectuals and researchers to approach modern history with expertise and knowledge.
The Museum educational programs are designed for elementary and secondary school students. They include professional tours of the permanent museum exhibition, interactive school workshops, pedagogical and educational publications, lectures, special programmes observing important historical dates, etc.