Comment: Srebrenica Revisited

Survivor remembers a friend buried along with hundreds of other massacre victims in a new cemetery near the town.

Comment: Srebrenica Revisited

Survivor remembers a friend buried along with hundreds of other massacre victims in a new cemetery near the town.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

There were six hundred plots visible in the cemetery for Srebrenica victims. There’ll be ten times more in the months to come - and even more in the future. This is a story about one of those who died.


The two of us were born in the same year. We met for the first time in the war, at the time when a fragile peace had been established in Srebrenica under the auspices of the UN.


The last I saw of him was the day in July 1995 when Bosnian Serb forces took the town. Massacres were carried out. Last week, I found him listed among the names of 600 dead.


Nehrudin Sulejmanovic worked in the city hospital as a medical technician. He was good looking – a handsome young man. But underneath it all, he was also a boy who never had the time or the chance to grow up, and who still fought with his boyish worries. He was secretly in love with a close cousin of mine. Of course, he never told her this.


One day, it could have been 1994, I saw him leave the hospital early in the afternoon with a white bandage around his head. He had a fair complexion, but he was even paler that day; it doesn’t really matter how, but, as a medical technician, he had managed to get an appointment with one of the foreign surgeons who used to come to Srebrenica and get an ear operation.


His ears looked too big, he used to say. A few of us, who were his friends, were a bit angry with him; we had all heard him talk about that, but none of us took him seriously, until he surprised us.


Not long after, our world fell apart. I still wonder why Nehrudin took the decision to stay in Srebrenica, and go to Potocari, to help the wounded. Many other men took the other route, smuggling themselves through the mountains and front line to Tuzla. A lot of them died too, but some made it.


Whatever the reason, Nehrudin didn’t decide against going to Tuzla because he was a coward.


And anyway, the few days that he spent in Potocari helping hundreds of wounded, feeding them and giving them something to drink in those scorching hot days, took more courage than anything else. All the more since armed Serb troops surrounded the factory from the very first day.


The evening before Nehrudin left for Bratunac in a Dutch truck, together with the wounded and with a Dutch doctor at the steering wheel, we sat, almost all night, in one of the abandoned containers that had been used by the UN.


With us were two girls, one of them the one that he was in love with.


I think that we then shared a feeling of relief, because everything was over, because we were confident we would be sitting somewhere in Tuzla in a few days’ time. Sitting and drinking beer - a luxury we had not known since the siege began in 1992. We talked - I can no longer remember about what.


I don’t know if we were drinking anything at the time. Maybe I had “snitched” something from the blue helmets. Anyway, we smoked like crazy. The night was beautiful. I saw him the next day, before he got on the truck. We hugged and once again promised to treat each other to a beer in Tuzla.


You see, we thought we both had privileges: he was a medical technician, and I was a translator working for the UN. But we never had that beer.


I arrived in Tuzla from Zagreb six months later. He headed off to Bratunac and was never seen again.


When I arrived in Potocari late last month, I went straight to find his grave. It seemed the most natural thing to do.


And I went back there again in the afternoon – and I found four people standing next it. Two young men and two girls.


One of them was as beautiful as he was, so she could only have been his sister.


All four were crying, but none of them like her, hugging the gravestone. I stood there petrified. I didn’t know what to do: maybe walk up to her and say that I was his friend, that I was the last one to see him alive.


But I decided against it after all. I waited for them to leave, then I walked up to the grave, leaned down and whispered, “Well, we didn’t have that drink.”


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter.


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