The Old Bridge: the background

Hello from St. Albans,

I know many of you have been able to read and enjoy The Old Bridge by now. The book has got off to a good start. After just ten days on sale, it already has nineteen five star reviews on the Amazon US site, and nine five star reviews on the Amazon UK site. If you are among those who wrote the reviews—many thanks!

Quite a number of people have been asking where the historical background information came from, so I am including, below, some of the sources I used. Hopefully that will be of help for those of you who want to find out more.

I can see that many of you have been on holiday to this region—particularly Croatia—and that has clearly triggered your interest!

There were a great many fascinating books, films and articles that I read through and watched as part of the lengthy research process prior to and during the writing of this book. 

I could not possibly list them all, but I thought it would be good to give you a flavor of the ones I found most useful here, so that if you would like to find out more about the issues that inspired my plot, you at least have a starting point.

The classic six-part BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia, first broadcast in 1995, is still available on YouTube—you can find it  HERE. It is probably the best starting point for those who would like to get a feel for the scale of, and background to, the conflict that tore the region apart. It includes dramatic footage of the destruction of the Stari Most—the Old Bridge—in Mostar, by tank fire in November 1993. 

There is a book, also called The Death of Yugoslavia, that was published to accompany the series, written by correspondents Laura Silber and Allan Little. It is also well worth reading and is still available on Amazon.

The transcripts of the trials conducted at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague are fascinating to read and give a wealth of useful material.

A good example is the trial summary and six volumes of judgements from the combined trials of Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić, and Berislav Pušić. This trial dealt with the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar using tank shells. The documents can be found  at and Judgement Volume 2, Section V, gives the most detail on the destruction of the bridge. You will see how I have loosely built my story around the facts outlined in this case.

There is also a large amount of detail in Volume 2 of this judgement on the war crimes committed at the Heliodrom, the concentration camp near Mostar, by Croat HVO forces against mainly Muslim detainees. Again I have drawn on this detail quite heavily in The Old Bridge.

A book written by Jadranka Petrovic, The Old Bridge of Mostar and Increasing Respect for Cultural Property in Armed Conflict, also gave some fascinating background on the destruction of the Stari Most. It is an academic study that also makes good use of the ICTY transcripts among the many sources used by the author.

Ed Vulliamy, a journalist with The Guardian, wrote an eloquent and hard-hitting book, The War is Dead, Long Live the War, about the conflict and the postwar attempts to seek justice for those who were victims of war crimes. This formed very helpful background reading.

For a broader overview of the ethnic and religious conflict that has existed in the entire Balkan peninsula region for hundreds, even thousands, of years, I would recommend Balkan Ghosts, by Robert D. Kaplan, a journalist who writes for The Atlantic and other media outlets.

Regarding US policy toward Bosnia and support for the Bosnian Muslim government of Alija Izetbegović in their battles against the Serbs and Croats, there are very many publications offering deep background of various kinds.

One that focuses on the role of the CIA and other intelligence services is Cees Wiebes’s book, Intelligence and the War in Bosnia 1992-95. This examines the detail behind the controversial US decisions to effectively allow Iran to supply weapons to Bosnia and the thinking behind it, and to permit mujahideen into Bosnia to fight alongside Bosnian forces. At the time, of course, these decisions were driven by the situation on the ground, in which the Muslims were being hit hard by Serb and Croatian forces.

There is an illuminating 1996 report by the US House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations, which examines the US role in arms transfers from Iran to Bosnia and Croatia and discusses the effective “green light” given by the Clinton administration to allow this to happen. It is available here.

A thorough New York Times analysis of Clinton’s Bosnia policy, “The Clinton Record,” can be found here.

There are various media reports about the relationship between Izetbegović and Osama bin Laden. One good example is here.

On Aisha’s life in New York, I was inspired by a blog, Slavs of New York, and in particular a piece on Bosnians in Astoria, which led me to the Ćevabdżinica Sarajevo restaurant that I’ve depicted as her favorite hang-out. The blog can be found here.

Like Aisha and Franco, there were many couples in mixed marriages across the sectarian divide in Bosnia whose lives were torn apart by the conflict. A harrowing story that illustrates the issues very starkly is one in the Chicago Tribune, to be found here.

A large number of refugees from the war in the Balkans subsequently made their way to the US and other countries, who have all done their bit to accommodate the displaced and the persecuted, many of whom endured extreme ordeals during the conflict and then a tough period of adjustment in their new homeland. For those interested in reading some of their stories, a good starting point is an article in The Independent by one refugee, found here.

An excellent source of news and analysis across the Balkan region can be found at the Balkan Insight website. This news site keeps a close watch on ongoing trials for war crimes at the various courts across the former Yugoslavia. It can be found here.

Balkan Insight also recently published an excellent article about the ongoing political unrest across Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of the artificial carve-up of boundaries, and the potential for further unrest. It can be read at

An interesting article about how the divisions between ethnic factions in Bosnia have never gone away since the end of the war, and the potential for more conflict in the future, can be found in this analysis article in Foreign Affairs, here.

I have set up a page on my website with all the above information. Click here:

That's it for now.

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Andrew Turpin Author

St. Albans, U.K.




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