Survivor of the Srebrenica genocide: “It will happen to us again” | News of the genocide


Survivors of the Srebrenica genocide, in which Serb and Bosnian forces systematically killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys for several days, have marked the 26th anniversary of the killings.

The coffins with the remains of 19 Bosnians found in mass graves and recently identified by DNA tests will be buried on Sunday in the cemetery commemorating the victims of the genocide on the outskirts of the eastern city of Bosnia.

At the time, Vahid Suljic was a nine-year-old boy from the nearby village of Voljavica, who had sought refuge in Srebrenica with his family.

He survived the genocide, but what he witnessed left him traumatized for years.

Suljic recounted his experiences and told Al Jazeera that he fears a genocide could be committed again against Bosnians if Serbian denial of the genocide continues and persistent tensions are rekindled.

Escape to Srebrenica

Between 1992 and 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina was embroiled in an ethnic war between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. About 100,000 people died.

Bosnian Serb forces began attacking towns, cities and towns throughout Bosnia in 1992, with the aim of “ethnically cleansing” non-Serbs in the region to create a Greater Serbia.

For the Suljic family, the nightmare began in May 1992, when they first learned that Serbian paramilitary units had tortured, killed and taken Bosnian Muslims to concentration camps in the border areas of Voljavica, located on the border. with Serbia.

Vahid Suljic, next to the UN soldier and looking at the camera, appears in this 1994 Srebrenica photo [Courtesy of Vahid Suljic]

Fearing that they might face a similar fate, the Suljic family escaped to the nearby forests where they hid for about two weeks. During this time, Serbian paramilitaries arrived in their village and elderly people who could not escape into the forest were burned alive in one of the houses, Suljic said.

To save their lives, a group of 250 Bosnian civilians from Voljavica decided to make the day trip through the forest to Srebrenica, located 15 km (9.3 miles) away, as it was then controlled by the Bosnian army.

During their voyage, Serbian forces ambushed the group twice with machine guns. In each “machine gun nest,” there were about 30-50 shooters, Suljic said. About 60-70 Bosnians were killed in the ambush.

Her family, including her ten-year-old sister, survived by throwing herself into a nearby stream and waiting until nightfall before continuing on to Srebrenica.

“In fact, we were like wild animals being hunted because they had prepared [to kill us] in numerous places, ”Suljic said.

“Srebrenica was besieged on all sides and they knew that people in the surrounding areas were trying to break into Srebrenica and they had prepared for it.”

The genocide happened even though Srebrenica was a “safe zone” protected by the United Nations where some 50,000 Bosnians had sought refuge.

The genocide

When the “safe zone” of Srebrenica fell to Serbian forces on July 11, 1995, Suljic and his family were among thousands seeking refuge inside and outside the former battery factory where he was located. the UN base that had a Dutch battalion of UN soldiers.

Dutch UN peacekeepers stand on an armored transport while Bosnian Muslim refugees from Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, seek refuge in the nearby village of Potocari [File: AP Photo]

Suljic witnessed Serbian forces, dressed in United Nations uniforms to impersonate Dutch soldiers, entering freely and watching everyone at the base.

At night while people were sleeping, Serbian forces separated the men from their families to kill them and also took some women and girls from the base and raped them.

Suljic said Dutch soldiers did nothing to stop what Serbian forces were doing.

“[Serb forces] they did what they wanted. They had total control over the base. “

“I remember [Bosniak] men shouting and asking for help every night, ”Suljic said.

During the day, Suljic also heard high-pitched screams in the woods as he went to fetch water from a river in the field near the base.

“I saw corpses [there], severed heads … impossible to describe in words “.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld the partial liability of the Netherlands for the deaths of some 350 Bosnian Muslims killed by Serbian forces in Srebrenica.

Bosnians killed with Suljic surname appear at Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center [Courtesy of Vahid Suljic]

After three days at the base, the buses arrived. Dutch soldiers informed them that the women and children would be evacuated to the city of Tuzla, in a liberated territory controlled by the Bosnian army, but that all men between the ages of 11 and 77 had to stay and wait. to be picked up by another set of buses. .

When Suljic’s uncle drove him to the bus, the Serbian soldiers forcibly separated them and Suljic did not see his uncle again.

“As we traveled to Tuzla, we watched as the captured men were captured to be shot. Among them, I recognized my neighbors, with whom I played before and during the war. They looked scared and traumatized, ”Suljic said.

When the women and children arrived in Tuzla, they stayed in a refugee camp and waited for news of their loved ones.

Vahid Suljic prays for his uncle Vahdet Suljic at his grave in the cemetery and Memorial Srebrenica – Potocari [Courtesy of Vahid Suljic]

Suljic’s father managed to escape and, after seven days of trekking through the forest, crossing Serbian lines and surviving shootings and ambushes amid famine, Suljic’s father was among a small minority of Bosnians who made him alive.

A couple of years ago, Suljic’s family received a phone call informing them that their uncles ’bodies had been found in different mass graves.

Some of the remains of his father’s brother, Vahdet Suljic, 28 at the time, were later found in three different mass graves, at a distance of 30 km. They have already buried some of his remains twice, but more than half of his remains are still missing.

In just three days, Serbian forces killed more than half of the family, including uncles, cousins ​​and other relatives, Suljic said.

Denial of genocide

Several thousand Serbs and Bosnians continue to live in the poor town of Srebrenica. Suljic described it as a “dead city” today, with no prospects. He now lives in the state of Qatar, in the Gulf.

Although 26 years have passed since the genocide, the survivors are still fighting the widespread Serbian denial of historical facts that have been confirmed on numerous occasions by international courts in The Hague.

Posters and graffiti glorifying Ratko Mladic, the general who led the Bosnian Serb forces and was convicted genocide, are regularly found in the Serb-populated areas of Bosnia, as well as in neighboring Serbia and Montenegro.

Before the 26th anniversary of the genocide, Bosnian media reported on Friday that Serbian war celebrations were being held in the back garden of a church above the memorial center, with music sounding provocatively.

Srebrenica’s latest genocide denial report (PDF) published on Friday by the Srebrenica Memorial Center identified at least 234 cases of denial of genocide in regional public speeches and media over the past year, most of which occurred in Serbia.

The report found that most of the deniers of the Srebrenica genocide work in the public sector, including 28 currently holding positions in state governments and entities. Alarmingly, many of them were active in Serbian political and military apparatuses during the Bosnian war.

Lejla Gacanica, editor of the report, said at a news conference on Friday that narratives denying genocide and glorifying war criminals have intensified over the past year and that denial in the region is part of the ‘strategy of the Serbian state.

According to the American genocide scholar Gregory H Stanton, who coined the “10 stages of genocide“Theory, denial is ‘one of the surest indicators of new genocidal killings.’

Suljic said the still-burning tensions and denial of genocide pose serious risks for the future.

“If the situation continues like this, I think Srebrenica [another genocide] it will happen to us again “.

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