Every year on July 11 thousands of Bosnians and others from around the world participate in the 63 mile walk to Srebrenica in honor of the victims and survivors of the Srebrenica genocide. The march is the exact route taken by the Bosnian refugees that attempted to escape the massacre which occurred in Srebrenica. At the end of the 3 day march, a mass funeral is held for those whose bodies were found during the prior year. Each year since the genocide, new bodies are found and buried and every year the search for remains of those murdered in Srebrenica continues.
But as historian Marko Attila Hoare recently stated here; the genocide did not begin in Srebrenica in 1995; the genocide began in 1992 at the start of the War. The Bosnian War began on April 6, 1992 and lasted until the signing of the Dayton Agreement in December of 1995. This war of aggression was not just an armed conflict between feuding countries, but rather a systematic campaign of extermination and displacement with the ultimate goal being a “Greater Serbia” ; a creation of a pure Serb state.
Between 1992 until 1995; over 100,000 people were murdered, over 50,000 women were raped, and 2.1 million people were displaced; the majority of these victims being Bosniak Muslims. During this time period, there was an estimated 677 concentration, rape, and detention camps set up throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the most well-known was the Omarska camp; a “death camp” in which over 6,000 people were detained in, tortured, raped and 700 were eventually murdered. Rape camps in which Bosniak and Croat women were systematically raped in by Bosnian Serb soldiers were extremely common; for more on the way rape was utilized as weapon of war click here. Beyond this: shelling campaigns, mass graves, destruction of religious and historical buildings, and torture were standard utilization of the Serbian forces. For more detailed information about the war, I’d recommend some of the books on this list.
Given the strength of the Serbian forces and an increase in killings around the Eastern part of Bosnia throughout the war, the United Nations declared Srebrenica a “safe zone” on April 16, 1993 advising the Bosnian people that if they were to go there, they would be under the protection of the UN. However, that did not last very long as in July of 1995 Serbian forces advanced on Srebrenica and the Dutch “peacekeepers” tasked with protecting the civilians gave up control over to the Serbs, you can read more about the Dutch involvement in the genocide here. The Serbian forces led by General Ratko Mladic entered Srebrenica and over the course of three days murdered over 8,372 people and displaced 20,000 from their homes. You can view the Serbian forces entering the Srebrenica area and his declaration of revenge against Bosniaks here. (Content warning for murder)
During this time period all sorts of atrocities were committed; to read witness testimonies about the scale of the murders, rapes, and other forms of torture please check out https://www.srebrenica.org.uk/category/survivor-stories// as well as ICTY testimonials here: http://www.icty.org/en/about/registry/witnesses.
Beyond just Srebrenica and all those who were murdered there; I reiterate the importance of understanding and stating that everything that happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 90’s constituted genocide. Whether that’s the 8,372 massacred in Srebrenica and the 3,000 executed in Visegrad, or the over 10,000 gunned down in Sarajevo and murdered in Prijedor, everything that happened to Bosniak Muslims was a genocide.
Those of us who survived are tasked with letting the world know the truth about what happened and doing our best to prevent yet genocide from happening again. Each year, we commemorate the Srebrenica genocide in whatever way we can. We remember what happened to our loved ones, our fathers and brothers, mother, sisters, neighbors, and friends. We say our prayers, we sit in silence, we mourn, and we cry. This year is no different, with genocide commemorations being organized in various cities throughout the United States, Europe and the Balkans.
This year, as a way to commemorate the genocide, I wanted to hear from and talk to other young Bosnians about what the Srebrenica genocide means to them and why it is so important to “never forget”. One young woman; Nermina* who lost her father in the Srebrenica genocide stood out more than others. She was a child when her father was murdered by Ratko Mladic’s men and according to her does not remember much of the war or the genocide but she still feel as if she was there. She has lost 64 members of her family to the genocide.
When asked about what the genocide represents; she answered with a simple sentence: “It represents evil.”
Nermina, much like many other survivors, does not wish to disclose details of her pain but when speaking with them, whether in person or via the phone, I can always hear it in their voice. There are people in Bosnia who lost entire families, lineages and towns to the genocide. One such person is Hasan Nuhanovic, a Srebrenica genocide survivor and an activist who campaigns "For truth and justice" on behalf of other survivors and relatives of the victims. Nuhanovic lost his entire family when despite all his please, the Dutchbat who he worked as a translator for, released his family from the refugee base handing them over to their deaths at the hands of the Serbian forces.
One Bosniak that shared his story with me, Dino Batanovic from Zvornik, said that as a Bosniak he feels that the genocides that occurred in Bosnia should be represented everywhere in an honest manner. He feels “we have reduced 3 years of suffering into Srebrenica” forgetting the rest of 100,000 people who were murdered throughout the war of aggression.
Another Bosnian-American, Enes Sepicfrom Zenica, believes that it is important to not forget Srebrenica in order to prevent it from further happening. He states; “I would like people to know that these people were slaughtered for nothing, for just being a certain ethnic group and religion.”
Agan Uzunovic from Sarajevo mirrored his thoughts; “Srebrenica happened because of fascism. I believe that it is more important now than ever [to remember Srebrenica) because of the rising fascism in Europe and USA. When we think about the Holocaust, we know that fascists did it because they said they were fascists. However, those who killed people in Srebrenica are similar sort of fascists that we say today-they won’t admit that they are what they are, they make up some other names like “alt-right”.
For different people in Bosnia, the genocide represents different things. For some, such as Arnela K, it represents “suffering and pain”, for others like Fatima B. it represents “the strengths and perseverance of the Bosnian people.” There are those, like Naila* who wish to simply forget and “want to see the country move forward towards a better future for the young” and those like Azra P. from Vlasenica, who believe that no progress will be made all while “genocide denial is allowed and war criminals are celebrated”.
Genocidal denial regarding Srebrenica as well as Bosnia at large is rampant. Despite all the forensic, video, photographic evidence as well as the testimonies of survivors, witness, and even the war criminals themselves; there are those who believed there was no genocide and even worse there are those who believe the perpetrators of genocide, such as Ratko Mladic, Milan Lukic, Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic, and countless other players are actual heroes.
While the people of Bosnia are still in mourning 20+ years after, in search of the remains of their loved ones, waiting for justice that always seems to be right out of reach, there are those who celebrate their pain. That, to me, has always been the biggest tragedy.
Out of everyone I’ve spoken to regarding the genocide the words of my uncle ring true the most: “To cut down 8,000 trees in a forest is a tragedy for the human race, it’s noticeable, it cannot be ignored, to murder over 8,000 people cannot be ignored either.”
Today 71 recently identified victims will be buried and put to rest. Their families will finally find some peace but justice for all Bosnians is still a long walk away.
- Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura
*names were changed at the request of the interviewees