During my internship at The Advocacy Project (AP), I did research on the challenges of post-war Bosnia and created a set of web pages on Bosfam, a NGO based in Tuzla and founded by and for the women survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Eastern Bosnia. The more I familiarized myself with Bosfam, the more I became to admire the work and mission of the organization. Now that I am going to Bosnia as an AP Peace Fellow to work with Bosfam, I am glad that I will have a chance to get involved in Bosfam’s day-to-day activities in person instead of trying to help from half way around the world.
I might be repeating the material available on AP’s website, but I feel like I need to give some background information on Bosfam to get my diverse audience on board. The work of Bosfam is is intimately connected to the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. During the war, thousands of Bosniak-Muslims who were forcefully displaced from their homes in Srebrenica and the surrounding areas arrived at crowded collective centers in the town of Tuzla. One of the displaced women, Munira “Beba” Hadzić, started a weaving project in order to provide the other women with something to do in the idle collective centers. The project evolved into Bosfam, whose name is derived from Bosnian family.
Today, the majority of the members of Bosfam are women who lost their male relatives in the Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by the Bosnian Serb soldiers commanded by General Ratko Mladić. The goals and activities of Bosfam expanded to include providing psychosocial support for Bosnian women traumatized by the war and loss of loved ones, helping them with opportunities for income generation, assisting displaced women to return to their homes in Srebrenica, and supporting efforts to bring justice to the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.
In 2007, Bosfam launched the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt project in cooperation with AP. The women of Bosfam have so far woven six large quilts made up of individual panels, each of which commemorates a person killed or went missing during the Srebrenica massacre. The reason behind this focus on individuals is to bring identity to the victims, who have largely been reduced to mere numbers. The Srebrenica Memorial Quilt differs from conventional forms of memorialization such as monuments in a number of ways. First of all, the goal of the memorial quilts is not just to honor the dead and missing, but also to serve as an active instrument for social change – to keep the memory of the massacre alive, demand accountability for the atrocities in Srebrenica, and contribute to efforts of rebuilding Srebrenica and supporting the returnees. Second, unlike most forms of memorialization and commemoration, the Bosfam quilts are not static; they have been displayed at dozens of exhibitions and events in Europe and North America to raise awareness of the tragedy of Srebrenica and to act as a tool for human rights advocacy. Most importantly, one of the quilts was used at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) based in The Hague to lobby at the trial of Radovan Karadzić, former president of the Bosnian Serbs. Third, the memorial quilts are also a means to fundraising and income generation. The donations collected while presenting the quilts and contributions through AP’s website serve to pay the weavers of Bosfam, weave new quilts, train more women in carpet weaving, and facilitate the return of displaced persons to their pre-war homes.
In addition to helping the survivors of the Srebrenica massacre tell their stories through my blogs, photos, videos, and various social networking sites, I will work to support and expand the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt project. The women of Bosfam intend to raise the total number of quilts to 15 by the 15th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica on July 11. On that day, close to 600 newly identified bodies from the mass graves will receive proper burial at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center. I am excited to start my fellowship in less than two weeks and am convinced that it will be a valuable experience. At the same time, I feel the need to prepare myself emotionally, especially for July 11.
Posted By Laila Zulkaphil
Posted May 27th, 2010