Kazani pit killings

The Kazani pit killings refers to the mass murder of predominantly ethnic Serbs living inside besieged Sarajevo by the forces of Mušan Topalović, commander of the 10th Mountain Brigade in the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War.[4][5][6]

Kazani pit killings
Sarajevo Kazani 3.jpg
The Kazani pit, located on the outskirts of Sarajevo. Used as an execution site and mass grave by Topalović and his forces.
LocationSarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
DateApril 1992 to October 1993
TargetPredominantly Bosnian Serb civilians
Attack type
Mass killing
PerpetratorsMušan Topalović, 10th Mountain Brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina


Topalović, nicknamed "Caco", was a pre-war rock musician and gangster who became commander of the Sarajevo-based unit at the outset of the war.[7] He was also involved in the organization of the Patriotic League and Green Berets paramilitaries.[8] Topalović, along with Jusuf Prazina, Ismet Bajramović and others, was one of the key criminals tasked with defending the city during the early stages of the war.[9] Ramiz Delalić, who commanded the 9th Mountain Brigade in Sarajevo, and Topalović who commanded the 10th brigade, controlled a large part of the besieged capital.[10] Topalović controlled the area from Skenderija on the left bank of the Miljacka eastward.[9] He exercised absolute power over neighborhoods, press-ganged recruits, ran black market smuggling, kidnapped and ransomed rich people, organized rapes, allocated empty houses, and executed Serb fighters and civilians (likely over 400).[8]

In one documented case, a family of six was gunned down by automatic weapons as they gathered to eat lunch, by assailants who were wearing uniforms of the Patriotic League.[7][11] Jovan Divjak, a Serbian general serving with the Sarajevo government, said that officials identified the killers within hours but police blocked the investigation – as in many other cases of Anti-Serb violence.[7]

The Kazani pit was located on Mount Trebević below Bosnian Serb Army positions and approximately 1.5 kilometers north of the city center.[5] It was used by Caco and his men as a place for murder and as a mass grave for their victims.[6] Serb civilians were rounded up, beaten and then killed, often by having their throats slit and being decapitated, before their bodies were dumped at the Kazani pit.[12][13]

On May 27, 1993, Divjak informed then president of the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović of the crimes carried out against Serbian civilians in Sarajevo.[14] He sent a five-page letter which not only detailed the killings being carried out by paramilitary groups, but also listed more than a dozen names of those who had been abducted and slain.[15]


On October 26, 1993, Muslim police units disbanded Caco's paramilitary group, arrested 16 soldiers and killed Caco, who one Muslim general described as "an inconvenient witness" to wartime atrocities.[15] 14 soldiers were convicted of various atrocities, with most serving sentences of a few months.[15] Esad Tucakovic, who was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in killings carried out in October 1993, described the torture and murder of couple Vasilij and Ana Lavriv during his trial.[a] After describing how he hit Vasilij Lavriv and killed him by slitting his throat, he continued:

I took my knife -- it was 40 centimeters long -- and severed her [Ana Lavriv's] head from her body. I pushed her corpse into the pit and left her head on the ground. After that I ran to the trench. I had blood all over my hands and clothes. I washed, so I did not see the killing of the other two people. When I got back to the brigade headquarters, I was told that Caco was pleased with my work.[15]

The Bosnian government's relationship with Caco and his paramilitary group proved to be complicated as their defense of the city during its siege was a priority.[16] Alibabić and others charge that Caco was eliminated not because he was an out-of-control commander but because he had become a political liability for Izetbegović and his inner circle of SDA political leaders who were accomplices in his dirty work.[16]

Death tollEdit

An exhumation of the mass graves at the Kazani pit was undertaken by investigators, with 29 bodies being recovered after a few days.[15] However, the work was abruptly halted by the Interior Ministry and never resumed.[15] "There were clearly more than 29 bodies in the pit," said Munir Alibabić, who at the time was the police chief of Sarajevo and was in charge of the investigation, "but I was ordered to stop all work. When I questioned the Minister of Interior, he told me this was a presidential order. I suspect that finding large numbers of bodies was politically inconvenient."[15] Of the 15 victims that were identified, 10 were Serbs, 2 Ukrainians (Ana and Vasilj Lavrov), 2 Croats and one Bosniak.[17]

The total number of victims killed at Kazani is not known, with estimates ranging from a few dozen to some hundreds.[18] Victims estimates of Serb civilians killed in Bosnian government-held Sarajevo conducted by the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina officials say "at least 150".[19] The actions of paramilitary units led many thousands of Serbs to flee the city, particularly in the summer of 1992.[19] By war's end, the number of Serbs in Sarajevo was estimated to be in the low tens of thousands, fewer than 20% of those who had lived in the city in 1991.[19]


In 2016, Bosnian Muslim politician Bakir Izetbegović, the son of Alija Izetbegović, paid tribute to Sarajevo Serb war victims by visiting the Kazani pit and laying flowers at the edge of the ravine.[20]


  1. ^
    In earlier publications, the two victims are referred to as a Serbian couple and listed as Vasilij and Ana Lavriv.[15][21] They were subsequently identified as Ukrainian nationals and their last name listed as Lavrov.[17]


  1. ^ Ljubas, Zdravko (1 August 2019). "Fate Unknown: The Long Search for Sarajevo's Missing Serbs". Balkan Insight. BIRN.
  2. ^ FBIS Daily Report: East Europe, Issues 74-84. The Service. 1996. Sljivo also admitted that, as the escort to Topalovic, commander of the brigade, he killed about 200 Serb civilians and raped several dozens of women.
  3. ^ International Human Rights Reports, Volume 7. Human Rights Law Centre, Department of Law, University of Nottingham. 2000. The Record also indicates that the applicant stated that (on unspecified dates) he had killed 200 citizens of Serb origin in the pit "Kazani" (near Boguscevac) and participated in the rapes of 40 Serb women.
  4. ^ Cerkez, Aida (13 June 2016). "Bosniak leader pays tribute to Serb wartime victims". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Associated Press. The Kazani pit killings, as they came to be known..
  5. ^ a b Ristic, Mirjana (2018). Architecture, Urban Space and War: The Destruction and Reconstruction of Sarajevo. Springer. p. 194. ISBN 978-3-31976-771-0.
  6. ^ a b Moll 2015, p. 14.
  7. ^ a b c Grigorova Mincheva, Lyubov; Robert Gurr, Ted (2013). Crime-Terror Alliances and the State: Ethnonationalist and Islamist Challenges to Regional Security. Routledge. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-13513-210-1.
  8. ^ a b Mann, Michael (2005). The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. Cambridge University Press. p. 418. ISBN 978-0-52153-854-1.
  9. ^ a b Burg, Steven L.; Shoup, Paul S. (1999). The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Ethnic Conflict and International Intervention. M.E. Sharpe. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-56324-308-0.
  10. ^ Magas, Branka; Zanic, Ivo (2013). The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991-1995. Routledge. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-13634-092-5.
  11. ^ Schindler, John R. (2007). Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad: Bosnia, Al-Qaida, and the Rise of Global Jihad. Zenith Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-61673-964-5.
  12. ^ Wilkinson, Tracy (28 November 1997). "New Confessions of Barbarity Surface in Sarajevo". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Evangelista, Matthew; Tannenwald, Nina (2017). Do the Geneva Conventions Matter?. Oxford University Press. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-19937-979-8.
  14. ^ "OHR SRT News Summary, 02 Dec. 1997". ohr.int. Office of the High Representative.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Hedges, Chris (12 November 1997). "Postscript to Sarajevo's Anguish: Muslim Killings of Serbs Detailed". The New York Times.
  16. ^ a b Andreas, Peter (2011). Blue Helmets and Black Markets: The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo. Cornell University Press. pp. 95–96. ISBN 978-0-80145-704-3.
  17. ^ a b "New Search for Bodies Urged at Sarajevo's Kazani". Balkan Insight. BIRN. 7 March 2014.
  18. ^ "Les victimes serbes oubliées de Sarajevo" [Forgotten Serb victims in Sarajevo]. www.la-croix.com (in French). Agence France-Presse. 8 July 2016.
  19. ^ a b c Donia, Robert J. (2006). Sarajevo: A Biography. University of Michigan Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-47211-557-0.
  20. ^ "Bosnian Muslim leader pays tribute to Sarajevo Serb victims". i24news.tv. Agence France-Presse. 13 June 2016.
  21. ^ Porubcansky, Mark J. (26 April 1998). "Elusive Truth Begins to Surface as Bosnia Licks Its Wounds". Los Angeles Times.


Moll, Nicolas (2015). “Sarajevska najpoznatija javna tajna”: Suočavanje sa Cacom, Kazanima i zločinima počinjenim nad Srbima u opkoljenom Sarajevu, od rata do 2015 [“Sarajevo’s most known public secret”: Dealing with Caco, Kazani and crimes committed against Serbs in besieged Sarajevo, from the war until 2015] (PDF). Sarajevo: Friedrich Ebert Foundation. ISBN 978-9958-884-43-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit

Dealing With The Past: Kazani as Sarajevo's Stain During the Siege