Sisters Mourn Loved Ones at Srebrenica Event
Two sisters, Mevla and Bahra Omerovic from Glogova, a village in Bratunac municipality near Srebrenica, were among those burying the remains of their husbands at the Potocari memorial center this week, as thousands attended a ceremony marking the sixteenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. A third sister, Ismeta, had buried the remains of her husband at last year's commemoration.
“It's an excruciating pain,” Mevla said, “but at least in this way I can take a firm grasp of what little peace is left in my mind. I feel as if I were holding his hand only now. I feel I should have been holding his hand the moment he was killed, and I feel angry since they took him away from me.”
The annual commemoration at the memorial center was attended by around 15,000 people, including dignitaries from Bosnia and abroad, such as Croatian president Ivo Josipovic, High Representative Valentin Inzko and United States ambassador Patrick Moon. There was little in the way of Bosnian Serb representation at the event.
At this year’s ceremony, 613 victims of the Srebrenica killings, in July 1995 following the fall of the enclave, were buried at Potocari, bringing to almost 4000 the number of people who’ve been laid to rest there – just under half the named victims of the genocide.
The remains of Bahra's husband were found in two secondary mass graves. After the massacre, Bosnian Serb forces dug up the original burial sites fearing that they may have been located by satellite photography, and reburied the remains of victims at other locations, in the process separating bodies.
As Bahra was weeping by the grave, Mevla said, “One of our cousins was found in four different mass graves, and they still haven't completed his body. It hurts when they come to you and they tell you 'We have found two bones from his body, what do you want to do?' What kind of human being could kill a man and then tear him up in pieces?”
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The three sisters lost more than two dozen relatives in the massacre. They settled in Tuzla with their children, and although Ismeta has returned to Glogova with their father, their children won’t follow them. Her only son, who was ten at the time of the massacre, had married and is now living with his wife in Sweden.
“I have returned in spite of those who say 'this here is just one big mass grave'. But to be honest, this is what it feels like, once this day is over, they all forget us,” Ismeta told IWPR.
“The politicians, ours and theirs, and the foreigners. Everything is full of hypocrisy; of people who tell us that justice and reconciliation is important, but do nothing to help us find justice, come back home, live a normal life. It isn't easy to live in a place where your neighbours think [ex-Bosnian Serb general Ratko] Mladic is a hero. And especially so if you know there is nothing or nobody to protect you.”
This was the first commemoration since Mladic's recent arrest and transfer to the Hague tribunal. His arrest was mentioned in many of the dignitaries' speeches at the ceremony.
“I wish to thank you all for coming here to share our sadness and pain, but please remember Srebrenica and its victims not just during these tragic days in July,” said Camil Durakovic, Srebrenica's vice mayor and chairman of the organising committee. Durakovic was 16 at the time the massacre.
“As years go by, [we] all feel the same. Except that this year I feel a little easier because [Mladic] is behind bars in The Hague.”
Bosnian interior minister and Srebrenica native Sadik Ahmetovic, who is also the chairman of the management board of the memorial center, said that “Potocari is probably the saddest place in Europe” since the second world war, but also a place “which should send a message of justice and peace to all of Europe and the world”.
“The society [here] must find strength to face the past, and that will not be possible without processing war criminals,” Ahmetovic added.
High Representative Valentin Inzko spoke of the importance of confronting the past. “There may be people who insist that the killers are not killers, that the victims are not victims, that the dead people are not dead. But persistent sick denial of facts will disappear once the truth prevails. And the truth will prevail, even among those people hiding from it now,” he said.
“We have to use our strength, skills and honour to teach our children to respect, to love other people, no matter what their national or religious identity,” Croatian president Josipovi said. “We are responsible for making sure that a neighbour will never fight his neighbor again.”
Listening to the speeches standing next to her husband's coffin, Mevla said she hoped that "the dignitaries… maybe hang a photograph of the Potocari memorial center in their offices, to remind them before Srebrenica happens again.
“Justice needs court verdicts, justice needs memorials, justice needs people who tell their stories.”
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.