This week I attended the memorial ceremony of 505 victims of the Srebrenica massacre. I have been staying with my boss, Beba who runs Bosfam, and her family. As we drove up from Tuzla on Monday night we pass the memorial on the left hand side, where preparations were taking place for the ceremony the next day. I notice that Beba is crying as we pass and I feel awkward for the first of many times in the next few days. When we arrive at Beba’s apartment in Srebrenica, we set about making dinner, for which I am responsible. I’m told to make peppers and after much debate as to how one makes peppers, I finally ask Beba for help. Well known fact is that I can’t actually cook, so far I have boiled eggs and cut up vegetables. Beba takes over and we eat a hearty meal of salad, eggs and bread. Apparently one can just grill peppers, so now I know. After dinner there is a program on tv about Srebrenica. Included in the program are images of mass graves and gaunt prisoners of war. The Serbs even recorded their executions, which were included in the broadcast. It is an image I’ll never forget; one man after another is shot from behind, as the camera records. I’m certain that tv in the US would censor this footage but much like watching a car crash, I look and even as I write this it is as vivid as though I just saw it. After dinner, I take a walk into the town of Srebrenica. Srebrenica as I know it looks much like a ghost town but tonite there are more people here than usual. I can say with certainty that of the houses that remain in Srebrenica, less than 20% of them are inhabited. Returning to Srebrenica didn’t start until 1999 and 7 years later, very few families from before the war call this place home.
The day of the memorial is hot and sunny and starts with a family meal. Beba’s sister is here from Sarajevo. She lost a son and husband in the massacre, neither of which has been found to date. She is also joined by Suhada, a girlfriend of hers from childhood. And I’m also glad to have another American, Peter, who has joined the group to observe this day. Peter and I are dropped off at the Potocari memorial and we make our way through the crowds. 20,000 people have come for the event and we are one of many people sitting on the hillside of the memorial as the ceremony begins. There are songs, hymns and prayers. There in the center of the memorial is a covered area which the faithful muslims face. The men stand in the front and the women in the back, all facing the same direction and bowing in prayer, hands open to the sky. As the mullah calls out the prayers for the martyrs of Srebrenica, everyone bows in unison, at the waist then on to their knees, head to the ground. It’s a powerful image and the first time I have witnessed a Muslim ceremony. As the ceremony ends, the burials begin. The bodies are laid out end to end in their coffins, which are a wooden frame and a green cloth stretched over as the top. They are numbered from one to 505, and the graves have already been dug. On the loud speaker names are read out along with their place of birth. Coffins are passed by the men, while the women wait at the grave. Once the coffin is lowered into the grave and covered moments of silence and prayers for the departed ensue. Everywhere women and men and crying with greif and again I feel awkward to just stand around and watch. In the afternoon, Peter and I hitch back to Srebrenica and are picked up by a couple of Croatians, who are not only kind enough to gives us a ride but ask us for beer too.
Later on Beba and I head back to Tuzla with her husband, saying good bye once again to Srebrenica. It has been a trying time for the community of Srebrenica survivors and family members, and I’m afraid I offer little consolation to those that attended the memorial. I am an observer and a recorder of these events but the images I’ve seen in the last few days will certainly haunt my memories forever.
Posted By Yvette Barnes (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Posted Jul 13th, 2006