The Srebrenica Massacre: A Survivor Buries His Family

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Shaykh Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina gave a talk I attended once, a closed-door session with diplomats and policy-makers, and spoke about these events.  He spoke about the massacres, he spoke about the war and he spoke about the Dutch peacekeepers standing by and watching it all happen.  “We will never forgive them!” he said.

By the time the U.N. and NATO actually decided to do something about this, the reports had reached Muslim lands.  These same foreign “jihadi” fighters that would later be branded terrorists and Al-Qaeda, came to fight.  Veterans from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia, from Iran, from North Africa and beyond.  Shi’ah, Sunni, Wahhabi, Sufi.  The Iranian National Guard and the Saudis poured arms and weapons.  And they sent their clerics, their da’i and their soldiers.  And when it looked like the West would lose control and influence, they took action.  So, who are our heroes?  Sometimes, it is not easy to tell.

One of my lecturers from the Diploma in Islamic Studies Programme was Dr. Fikret Karcic, a man imbibed in the Path.  We were his last batch.  He left soon after to return home and he became the Mufti of Sarajevo.  And his was the job of healing and forgiveness.

There is no place in Islam for genocide.  Allah (s.w.t.) Says in the Qur’an:

سُوۡرَةُ بنیٓ اسرآئیل / الإسرَاء
۞ وَلَقَدۡ كَرَّمۡنَا بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ وَحَمَلۡنَـٰهُمۡ فِى ٱلۡبَرِّ وَٱلۡبَحۡرِ وَرَزَقۡنَـٰهُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَفَضَّلۡنَـٰهُمۡ عَلَىٰ ڪَثِيرٍ۬ مِّمَّنۡ خَلَقۡنَا تَفۡضِيلاً۬ (٧٠)

We have Honoured the sons of Adam; Provided them with transport on land and sea; Given them for sustenance things good and pure; and Conferred on them special favours, above a great part of Our Creation. (Surah al-Isra’:70)

And this is for all.  Every man, woman and child.  Regardless of race, language or religion.  As William Shakespeare wrote in his “The Merchant of Venice”, in Act III, Scene I, “I am a Jew.  Hath not a Jew eyes?  Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?  If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die?  And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?  If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.  If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?  Revenge.  If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?  Why, revenge.  The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

The following article is taken from 15 Years after the Srebrenica Massacre, a Survivor Buries His Family, by Hasan Nuhanovic, Sunday, July 11th, 2010.

Fifteen years ago, during the Bosnian war, Hasan Nuhanovic was a translator for Dutch peacekeepers in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, a U.N.-protected “safe area”.  As Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the city, some 30,000 Muslim residents, including Nuhanovic’s family, sought refuge at the nearby U.N. base in Potocari.  On July 13th, 1995, after the peacekeepers negotiated with Mladic, with Nuhanovic translating, the Dutch commander ordered the refugees to leave.  Despite Nuhanovic's pleas, his parents and brother were forced off the base.  They would be massacred, along with thousands of others.

He wrote, “Last month, I identified my brother by his tennis shoes.

In the fall, they got in touch with me about my mother.  They had found her, or what was left of her, in a creek in the village of Jarovlje, about a mile from Vlasenica, my home town.  The Serbs who live there threw garbage on her for 14 years.  She was not alone.  They killed another six in the same place.  Burned them.  I hope they were burned only after they died.

They identified my father four years ago, 11 years after his execution.  They found a little more than half his bones.  His skull was smashed from behind.  The doctor could not tell me whether that had happened after he died.  They discovered him in a secondary mass grave, Cancari, at Kamenica.  There are 13 mass grave sites there.  A little before the Dayton accords, Serb soldiers had dug the bodies up with bulldozers from the primary grave at the Branjevo farm, near Pilica, piled them on trucks and taken them to Cancari, almost 25 miles away, to dump them and bury them again.

There were around 1,500 killed at Pilica.  That is what they say at The Hague tribunal.  I read the statement of one of the murderers who said, ‘I couldn’t shoot anymore; my index finger was starting to get numb from so much killing.  I was killing them for hours."  Someone, he says, had promised them five marks for each Muslim they killed that day.  And he says that they made the drivers of the buses that brought the Muslims there kill at least a few so that they wouldn’t talk about it to anyone.’

Oh yes, poor drivers.  And poor Drazen Erdemovic, a Serb soldier who says he had to kill or he would have been killed.  They all had to do it, you see, and only Mladic is guilty because, they say, he ordered it all.  And when they catch Mladic, someday, he will say, like a real Serb hero, ‘I am taking the responsibility for all Serbs and for the whole Serb nation.  Only I am guilty; judge me and let everyone else go.’  And then all of us, we and the Serbs and the rest of them, we will be satisfied and happy.  We will rip off our clothes and jump into bed together.  We will not need the foreigners for anything anymore.

Last year, they put up headstones for everyone, nice ones, white, all the same, lined up in rows.  Two empty spaces by my father.  He has been waiting three years for my mother and his son, Muhamed, to be laid next to him.  Then, they told me about my mother.  I was preparing to bury her next to my father this Sunday.

And then the other day they called me - they said they had a DNA identification for my brother, but they were not 100 percent sure.  They said to come to Tuzla, and I went on June 18th.  In the spring of 1995, I bought my brother new tennis shoes, Adidas, from some foreigner.  My brother had not worn them more than a month or two.  And I bought him Levi’s 501s; he was wearing those.  I know exactly what T-shirt he was wearing.

In Tuzla, the doctor showed me a photograph of the clothes.  He said, ‘There isn’t much, very little, but there are some tennis shoes.’  When he put the picture on the table in front of me, I looked at the sneakers, my brother’s Adidas, as if he had just taken them off.  They were not even untied.  The doctor brought in a bag and shook out everything that they found on his remains into a box.  And after waiting 15 years, I took my brother's sneakers in my hands.  And besides those a belt, with a big metal buckle, and what was left of his Levi's.  And his socks, both of them.

I held the remains of my brother's jeans.  Metal buttons.  Part of the inside of the pockets.  Everything that was made of cotton had fallen apart.  Only the synthetic material was left.  There was another tag, just a little dirty, that survived among the fragments of cloth.  It said, ‘Made in Portugal.’  All day, I saw that ‘Made in Portugal’ before my eyes.  And for my whole life, I think, I will see that. I am going to hate everything that was ‘Made in Portugal,’ just like I hated the Heineken beer that the Dutch U.N. soldiers were guzzling in Potocari, on the base, less than an hour after they drove all the Muslims off - right into the Serbs’ hands.  Or maybe, I will love everything that has ‘Made in Portugal’ on it, everything that will remind me, for the rest of my life, of my murdered brother.

For 15 years I, like all the rest, prayed to God that when we finally discovered what happened, it would be that they did not suffer long, that they did not die in torment.  They have been dead for 15 years.  In that same year, other children were born.  And now those children are 15 years old.  July 11th will be someone's 15th birthday.  Reporters ask me all the time - and again the other day – ‘What is your message for future generations?’  I tell them about how after the Dayton peace accords I drove through eastern Bosnia, looking for the traces of the disappeared, the murdered.  I knew that near Konjevic Polje, Nova Kasaba, Glogova, on any of the routes toward Srebrenica, there are mass graves, that the meadows are full of them.  And when I drove that way, when everything was blooming, when it was all green, I did not see that beauty.  I only saw the mass graves that those meadows hid.

I drove by the places where Serbs live; I looked at them through the window and thought: Which of them is a murderer?  It was like that for years.  And then, one day, by the road on a meadow where I had heard that a mass grave was concealed, a little girl was playing.  She was 5 or 6.  Just like my daughter.  I knew the nearby homes were Serb houses.  The little girl ran across the meadow.  And everything mixed together in me - sorrow and pain and hate.

And then I thought, ‘That poor little girl, what is she guilty of?  She doesn’t even know what lies under that field, under the flowers.’  I am sorry for that girl who looked just like my daughter.  They could be playing together on that meadow.  And I wish that that little girl and my daughter will never experience what we lived through.  Never.  They deserve a nicer future.  That is what I say to those journalists.  The last ones were from Belgrade.

And so, the doctor has confirmed - the mortal remains of my brother will be prepared for the funeral on Sunday, July 11th.  It is as if my brother managed to check in at the last minute.  And so, my father, murdered in Pilica and exhumed in Kamenica, my brother, murdered in Pilica and exhumed in Kamenica, and my mother, murdered in Vlasenica and exhumed from under the garbage at the creek at Jarovlje, will finally rest beside each other in Potocari.”

Hasan Nuhanovic, is the author of “Under the U.N. Flag: The International Community & the Srebrenica Genocide.”  A longer version of this essay appeared originally in the Bosnian weekly Dani on June 18th and was translated into English by writer Peter Lippman.


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