Srebrenica massacre: ‘We must know what happened’

Comment on the photo, Sabrija Hajdarevic is one of thousands of Bosnians whose loved ones were killed in 1995.

  • author, Natasha Andjelkovic
  • Role, BBC News Serbian
  • Report from Srebrenica

Every July, Sabarija Hajdarevic returns to Srebrenica to visit the graves of her husband and father.

They were among an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed in 1995 by Serb forces.

The 67-year-old now lives thousands of miles away in Australia, but the annual trip means a lot to her.

This year is even more painful, as for the first time, July 11 will be celebrated as an International Day of Reflection and Celebration, based on a resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly in May.

The Srebrenica massacre, recognized by the United Nations as a genocide, was the horrific climax of the war in Bosnia – a conflict that erupted after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

In Bosnia, one of the emerging states after the breakup, there were three communities in conflict – on the one hand, the Bosnian Serbs, supported by Serbia, and on the other, the Bosniaks and Croats.

Comment on the photo, In May, the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate July 11 as the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims.

Srebrenica was home to about 40,000 Bosnian Muslims, many of whom had fled ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 war.

But in July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces—led by military commander Ratko Mladic—stormed the town, crushing peacekeepers who had failed to protect civilians who had taken refuge there.

The Serb forces arrested the men and boys of the town, and most of them were never seen alive again.

They were killed in large numbers or shot as they tried to escape through the wooded hills surrounding Srebrenica.

Image source, Image by FEHIM DEMIR/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Comment on the photo, About 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serbian forces.

The September 11 massacre of some 8,000 men and boys is the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II. Some 1,000 people are still missing.

Ratko Mladic was later sentenced to life in prison for war crimes, including genocide, and nearly 50 Bosnian Serbs were also convicted.

The recent UN resolution, which declared July 11 an International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide, also condemned any denial of the massacre and glorification of war criminals.

But most Bosnian Serbs, as well as many people in Serbia, have repeatedly denied that what happened in Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide.

Sabria responds to claims that Srebrenica killings were not targeted.

“We need to know what happened, instead of all these lies being spread,” she says. “My soul hurts.”

Some Bosnian families have been waiting for decades to bury their loved ones, as the identification process is long and difficult.

Her father’s remains have yet to be found, although she knows he was killed near their home in Srebrenica where her mother witnessed the killing.

Six months after her father was killed, her mother also died – “of grief,” says Sabreja, trying to hold back tears.

Many victims of the Srebrenica massacre are buried in the nearby Potocari cemetery. Thousands of simple white gravestones stand in a field on a hillside, surrounded by forest.

Comment on the photo, Birga Dilek lost her husband and his remains were not recovered until 2005.

Birja Delić also lost her husband in the massacre. His remains were not found until a decade later, and he was buried in 2010.

Last year, Perija decided to return to Srebrenica from Malta, where she had taken refuge after the war.

Her Muslim son married an Orthodox Serbian woman who says she “loves my baklava,” referring to the delicious dessert she cooks.

Before the 1990s war, Srebrenica was a town populated mostly by Bosnian Muslims.

Now the majority of the population is Serb, and some of the population were soldiers during the conflict.

“Even now you see someone walking around town, and you know he’s killed [Bosniaks] “But you remain silent, you can’t deal with this,” says Perega.

After the war, Bosnia was divided into two entities – Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Srebrenica is located in Republika Srpska.

“There are no problems between Serbs and Bosniaks here, but the tensions come from people from outside,” says Slavisa Petrovic, a 37-year-old Serb who runs the local tourism office.

But he says the city needs jobs to encourage people to stay.

Slavisa adds that the recent UN resolution on the massacre has changed nothing.

“People are leaving Srebrenica now as they did before” [the adoption of the resolution]”There are no jobs, there were never any.”

There are signs of the city’s decline. A popular spa and luxury hotel, abandoned for decades, are closed. Their walls are covered in graffiti.

Comment on the photo, Slavisa Petrovic runs the local tourist office.

The roads leading to the surrounding villages, where farmers with healthy livestock once lived, are now overgrown with weeds.

Many local homes are still in ruins. A mosque and a Christian Orthodox church stand on a hillside overlooking the town, their war wounds still intact.

Serb and Bosnian children go to local kindergartens and schools together, and photos of the new generation are proudly displayed in a public place in the city centre.

But these young people are likely to leave soon for good.

Slavisa feels sad that locals are still leaving the town. “It feels like they are leaving my home,” he says.

Comment on the photo, Srebrenica looks like a city in decline.

Only three of his classmates still live in Srebrenica, the rest have moved elsewhere.

However, he is determined to stay.

But he also admits that his four-year-old daughter is unlikely to feel the same way when she grows up.

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