I have lost count of how many papers I have written and how many books I have read about the Srebrenica massacre. I probably mentioned the name Srebrenica in almost every paragraph of this blog. Only last week, however, I had the chance to visit the site of this most horrible atrocity in Europe since the Second World War.
It normally takes about an hour to get to Srebrenica from Tuzla, but the trip I took with my director lasted longer as we had a couple of stops on our way. Our first stop was the contentious “Fata’s church” in a small village named Konjević Polje in the municipality of Bratunac. Fata Orlović is a Bosniak Muslim who was driven out of her home during the ethnic cleansing of Eastern Bosnia. When she returned to her pre-war home in 2000, she found a Serb Orthodox church in her front yard. Since then, Fata has been struggling to remove the church from her land despite persecution and physical assault. Three years ago, BBC reported that the government of Republika Srpska had promised a solution and that the church would soon be relocated. The fact that the church is still standing in front of her house indicates that Fata’s battle is not yet over.
Then we took a moment to look at the warehouse in Kravica village where an estimated 1,000-1,500 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica were massacred on 13 July 1995. The Bosnian Serb forces locked these individuals in the warehouse, fired with machine guns, and threw hand grenades into the building. The bodies of the victims were found in several different mass graves in the region, including the 80th mass grave discovered recently. I did not dare to approach the warehouse; simply looking at it gave me enough chills. I was surprised to see residential houses in the near surrounding. How can one wake up every morning and look at this slaughterhouse through their bedroom window – that’s something I cannot understand.
Perhaps the most overwhelming sight was the Memorial Center in Potočari where more than 5,000 persons killed during the Srebrenica massacre are now buried. When I entered the Memorial Center, I was immediately surrounded by perfectly lined up white marble tombstones; there were so many of them that I could not see the other end of the cemetery. As I took a walk in the Memorial Center, I read the names and birthdates on the tombstones. Sometimes almost an entire row consisted of family members with the same last name. In some rows I saw an open spot reserved for a missing person, so that he could be buried next to his father or brother once his body is found and identified.
Just across the road from the Memorial Center is the former headquarters of the Dutchbat – a battalion of Dutch peacekeepers responsible for defending Srebrenica which had been declared a UN safe area. It is also where more than 400 fully armed Dutchbat soldiers simply stood and watched as Mladić’s army separated the men of Srebrenica from the women and young children and took them away for mass execution. I took some photos of the site of the international community’s failure to prevent yet another genocide and continued to move towards Srebrenica.
As we approached Srebrenica, I could not help but notice the buildings shelled, bombed, and destroyed during the war. Not far from the road, I saw a staircase; it used to lead to someone’s home, but now it stood alone marking the horrors of the recent war. The forest and mountains surrounding Srebrenica were breathtaking, but the town was by far the saddest place I have ever been to. On the other hand, progress of reconstruction was visible. Not a single mosque survived the war in Srebrenica, but I saw at least two new mosques in the town center standing next to Orthodox churches. The returnees are slowly settling down and contributing to the recovery and reconstruction of Srebrenica. I could tell that Srebrenica was once a beautiful and harmonious town, and hopefully it will be again soon.
Posted By Laila Zulkaphil
Posted Jun 28th, 2010