Signs that we are getting closer to the July 11th anniversary for the Srebrenica Massacre are slowly surfacing – today, in the 85⁰F humid air, as there is always time and the weather for it, we sat down for a cup of kafa. One of the women, usually the one who teases everyone and seems to be very playful and young at heart, carefully took out several pictures of her two small granddaughters from her bag. Included in the abundance of pink, there was a faded picture of her 17 year old son standing near the entrance of a house with a red brick building behind him. He has been missing since the massacre. As I find myself doing very often, I sat there and tried to understand what was being said. Beba, the founder of BOSFAM, tries to keep me in the conversation every once in a while by translating (at which time everyone else tends to stop talking), but as two of the women were getting teary-eyed, now was not the right time to break the conversation…just as quickly as this came up, the women soon started talking about other things, put the coffee cups away and started teaching me to weave. I had been warned several times of the change in atmosphere that comes up whenever July gets closer. The weavers may be going to Srebrenica, or they take time off to mourn. Some think that having loved ones identified will create closure; on the contrary, Beba was telling me of someone who was very knowledgeable about the mass graves and issues related to this; even then, when it came to her relative, she always had hope that he had gone away somewhere and would eventually come home. A body being identified in a mass grave stops any hope that these women could have, even if it is unlikely that their relatives are alive. It amazes me how much faith and hope allows a person to live with their circumstances.
I was able to visit the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) last week and learnt a great deal about the process of the identification of people who were buried in mass graves. There are three types of mass graves – primary, secondary and tertiary – which refer to the systematic reinterment (or re-burial) of bodies by Bosnian Serb troops in other mass graves so that these bodies could not be found. With the movement of bodies from primary to secondary and tertiary graves, the bodies are sometimes more difficult to identify due to incomplete remains. Currently, 100 mass graves have been excavated in Bosnia (BiH), and there are still 15 mass graves known of in the area, but have not yet been exhumed. These are mostly a result of the massacres in both Srebrenica in 1995 and Zvornik in 1992.
As of now, over 3,600 official identifications have been completed, and another 1,500 (of incomplete remains) are in process. There are still more than 3,000 open cases in the storage facility, most of which are awaiting results. Many times, there are body parts that are not identifiable and these are buried together in a grave, imitating a mass grave, but done in a much more respectful manner. This year, they hope to identify about 300 people by July 11th, which is when most victims’ remains are buried. If families choose to do so, they can bury their loved ones earlier, but many choose to wait until July 11th, making it a symbolic process. This year, for the Srebrenica massacre anniversary, an estimate of the expected crowd in Srebrenica is approximately 40,000. I will be going to Srebrenica tomorrow for a day, to get a feel for the area, and will return there on July 11th.
So much has happened and the fact that so many people are still missing keeps wounds fresh and makes it an excruciating process for anyone to move on here. Many of the traditional songs speak of the war. July 11th is commemorated every year…with the same amount of pain and tears shed. Every so often, bulletins are posted outside the mosque to mention people who have been identified. Children grow up without male influences in their families. Others are born with birth defects because of war shelling. Many more die because of all the mines that still litter the earth here. All these make it impossible for any society to move on. Yet, there is still faith and the belief that things will be better…although more than 10 years have passed and everyone is still skeptical and suspicious about life and what happens from here, there is always some hope that keeps people striving for a better future.
Posted By Shweta Dewan
Posted Jun 24th, 2008