Bosnian war survivors recall painful memories

Sisters Fatima Mekanic and Mulija Selimovic Hodzic say that every year, when funeral prayers are held for victims of the Srebrenica genocide, they go back in time 29 years

Ahmet Nurduhan and Talha Ozturk  | 10.07.2024 - Update : 14.07.2024
Bosnian war survivors recall painful memories

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Survivors of the Bosnian war and relatives of victims of the Srebrenica genocide recounted their painful memories of the conflict to Anadolu on the 29th anniversary of the genocide, in which more than 8,000 people were killed.

On Dec. 21, 1991, Bosnian Serbs proclaimed their own republic after voting against independence from Yugoslavia in a referendum.

On Jan. 9, 1992, they proclaimed the Republic of the Serbian People in Bosnia-Herzegovina but did not officially declare independence.

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence after a referendum held on Feb. 29 and March 1, 1992 which sparked a three-year war.

The war lasted until Dec. 14, 1995, and more than 100,000 people were killed and 2 million had to migrate.

The fate of approximately 7,000 people who disappeared during the war is still unknown.

Relatives of the war victims cannot forget the pain of losing their loved ones, despite the 29 years that have passed.

Sisters Fatima Mekanic (60) and Mulija Selimovic Hodzic (58) told Anadolu about the painful days they lived through as they lost their father, brothers, and many relatives in the Srebrenica genocide.

Hodzic and her husband, together with their three children, were living in the city of Vlasenica up until Serb forces entered their region after the start of the war in 1992.

She said her husband, father-in-law, and four brothers-in-law were killed in Vlasenica, and her mother, father, two brothers, and daughter-in-law had to flee to Srebrenica, where there was a UN "safe area.”

"My uncle's grandchildren, my uncle, and my aunt's son were also killed there. My mother and father's cousins ​​and many of our neighbors lost their lives in the genocide," said Hodzic, adding that two of her uncle's six sons managed to pass to the safe zone in Srebrenica.

The UN Security Council declared Srebrenica a "safe area" in the spring of 1993. But Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic -- who was later found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide -- overran the UN zone.

Dutch troops responsible for protecting people in the UN zone failed to act when Serb forces occupied it on July 11, killing 2,000 men and boys in a single day.

About 15,000 Bosniaks fled to the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted them down and killed 6,000 more people.

Serbs who allowed women and children to reach the region controlled by Bosnian soldiers massacred at least 8,372 Bosnian men in forest areas, factories, and warehouses. The murdered Bosnians were buried in mass graves.

The bodies of genocide victims were discovered in 570 locations across the country, 77 of which were mass graves.

Hodzic then fled to Germany, where she lived as a refugee with her children.

"When I was in Germany, I watched what happened in Srebrenica on television. It was a very difficult time. I was in contact with my sister, who lived in the city of Tuzla. My sister went to the area where the survivors of Srebrenica were brought and found my mother, sister-in-law, and her children," she said.

However, Hodzic's father and brother were killed. Their body remains were found in a mass grave in Zvornik in 1996 and they were both buried in the Potocari Memorial Cemetery in Srebrenica.

"The last time I went to Potocari, I read the (Muslim holy book of) Quran for my father and brother. I felt that something was pulling me to stay there. It is very difficult to explain that feeling in words for those who have not lost their loved ones," said Hodzic.

While 6,751 victims have been buried in the Potocari Memorial Cemetery to date, 250 have been buried in local cemeteries at the request of their families. More than 1,000 victims of the Srebrenica genocide have not been found.

In 2007, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that a genocide was committed in Srebrenica.

Amid efforts to find the missing after the war, victims whose bodies were found in mass graves are buried in a ceremony held at the Potocari Memorial Cemetery every year on July 11 after identification.

The elder sister Mekanic, whose husband was killed in 1992, said they were very happy before the war.

"Before the war, our father was working. There was always a happy atmosphere in our house. I always remember those beautiful moments. I always dream of running away from the Chetniks. Every year, when the funeral prayers are held, I come back to what we experienced that day. It is very difficult," she said.

Mekanic said she was captured by the Serbs twice during that period and her husband was killed while going to Srebrenica with a military unit to defend the city.

"When I found my mother and sister, my mother was not well. She seemed lost. She did not hug me. I thought she did not miss me, but they said that my father and brother were taken away by the Serbs. My mother could not sleep for a long time, and when she told me what happened in Srebrenica, I understood why she could not sleep," she said.

Mekanic said that victims’ relatives can never forget the pain they felt.

"I cried a lot when they burned our house. But when I saw people being killed, I saw that the house had no meaning," she said.

She added that she remembers her father when she sees elderly people walking on the street.

"My father could have been like that too, but he is no longer there," she said.

On June 8, 2021, UN tribunal judges upheld a verdict sentencing Mladic to life in prison for genocide, persecution, crimes against humanity, extermination, and other war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On this year’s anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, 14 more genocide victims who have been identified will be buried in the Potocari Memorial Cemetery.

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