I would like to dedicate this post to my Grandfather, Ismet (Omer) Džanić (June 21, 1949 — August 3, 1992). He died fighting in the Bosnian War while serving his country and protecting his religion. I was deprived the chance to meet this courageous man because he had to fight for his right to freedom and peace. Alhamdulillah, his efforts haven’t gone to vain. May we meet in Jannah, Ameen.
What you’re seeing here is the Srebrenica Memorial and Grave-site where more than 7,000 people are buried, with more being discovered each year. 8,000 Bosniak men and boys as young as 12 were slain in what was the largest massacre in Europe after the Holocaust.
After the disbandment of Yugoslavia in 1992, the newly sovereign territories recognized and seized their opportunities in becoming independent. Bosnia declared their independence in the same year. This proclamation was recognized by the United Nations albeit for the Serbs. The Serbs were opposed to Bosnian independence because the idea of having a Muslim majority country as a neighbour was threatening. It would also result in a loss of territorial land for the Serbs. In response to the independent state, the Serbs declared war against the Bosniaks in 1992. The Serbs began their blockade and siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, which lasted a gruelling 4 years. The siege was to be the longest modern siege of a capital till this date. Excluding fatalities as a result of the war, the Serbs expelled around 20,000 Muslim civilians (Bosniaks), turning the war into an ethnic cleansing.
The war continued and was especially intense in places that bordered Serbia such as Doboj. This is where my Grandfather was from. In Doboj, the Serbs would enter the homes of the Bosniaks and kill off the males. The same was done to the Croat villages because initially, the Croats sided with the Bosniaks. This was done to them by the Serbs, both for military and ethnic cleansing purposes. Eventually, Croats created their own party in the war and fought against both the Serbs and Bosniaks with the aim of establishing a Croatian Republic of Herzeg Bosnia. Without the protection of Croats in the area, Bosnian Muslims were basically sitting ducks.
Upon realizing this plight, the UN (1993) declared six safe zones for the Bosniaks: Sarajevo, Tuzla, Bihac, Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde. These zones were under the protection of international UN peacekeepers. Many in Bosnia deemed these zones a prison camp where refugees would be starved and forced to work. But the desperate ones bought into the myth and migrated by the thousands in seek of refuge.
In February 1994 NATO intervenes in the war. It was the first military intervention by NATO since their establishment in 1949. American F-16’s were used to shoot down four Serb warplanes that were aiming to attack Sarajevo. After much reluctance, Bosnian Serbs agreed to the NATO agreements and withdrew their artillery from Sarajevo which temporarily relieved the tension brewing there. Hence why the UN declared Sarajevo one of the 6 safe zones.
But this drawback was short lived. When the Serbs moved back to their positions in Sarajevo, NATO responded by bombing their ammunition deposits. In an act of ‘revenge’, the Serbs pettily go after the Muslim safe zones declared by the UN.
July 11-22, 1995 marked one of the deadliest massacres the world has ever seen. The Serbs retaliation brought them to Srebrenica where nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were mass murdered on July 11th alone. The victims were forced to dig their own graves and shot in the back of the head execution style. The ‘graves’ were massive pits where dead bodies were dumped. They were shot in groups of 10. About 23,000 women and young girls were deported and separated from their male family and friends. To call it mercy up in women would be a deceit. Many survivors recall being raped and beaten. Males as young as 12 were left behind to be interrogated and then shot dead. Assistant Chief of Security and Intelligence of the Bosnian Serb army, Momir Nikolić was present and even accused of decapitating some of the 90-100 Muslim males that were loaded on trucks to be taken to grave pits.
The UN eventually deems this event a genocide. But by then, their reputation and credibility has begun to tank.
The Dutchbat (Dutch Battalion) who were under the command of the United Nations and in charge of protecting Srebrenica failed to do so. An investigation later revealed that the battalion was poorly equipped and their request for more artillery and assistance went ignored. Recently (2016), veterans of the battalion sued the Dutch government for "severe negligence and carelessness" in Srebrenica that cost the lives of nearly 8,000 innocents.
All over Bosnia, there are reminders of war, genocide, and the broken promise the world once claimed - “Never again” is what was said after WWII. From bullet-riddled buildings to gravesites for the fallen soldiers, Bosnia earned her stars but at a price that could have been avoided.
Every year more bodies are discovered and brought to the Srebrenica memorial and grave sight to be buried. Each year, for the last 22 years there has been a funeral prayer for the brave who gave their lives or lost it unwillingly. Every year families come back to pay their respects, some walking for miles to reach the site.
The official flower of Srebrenica is a crocheted flower with white petals and a green centre. The green is meant to resemble a coffin. In Bosnia, coffins are draped in green flags with the Islamic star and crescent printed on them. The white petals represent women surrounding the coffin. Culturally, women wear white to funerals and because women were spared, it made sense to depict them as grieving for their lost sons and husbands. The flower is usually followed with the caption, “Never Forget, Srebrenica”.
Author: Momina Tashfeen
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