By Valerie Hopkins
Organisers say turnout this year is bigger than ever, showing a growing commitment among people, not just Bosnians, to remember the mass slaughter that occurred in the town in 1995.
More than 7,000 people set off for a three day, 110 kilometre-long march to Srebrenica’s Potocari memorial centre on Sunday. Part of the “Mars Mira”, or “Peace March,” the walkers are tracing a reverse path of an estimated 15,000 thousand men and boys who fled the formerly protected UN enclave when it fell to the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, on July 12, 1995.
The march began Sunday morning in the hamlet of Nezuk, the place closest to Srebrenica held by the Bosnian Army. It remains a symbol an important symbol of freedom for Bosniaks [Muslims].
The peace marchers will arrive on the eve of the July 11 for the burial of 520 victims of the Srebrenica genocide whose bodies were exhumed in the past year.
This year more than 7,000 registration cards were issued to people from approximately 40 countries, making the march the biggest in history, march organizer Muhamed Durakovic confirmed to Balkan Insight.
More than 65 percent of the participants are youngsters under 30 and many of the marchers are international, said Durakovic.
“There are a lot of countries represented, including from the region, and this puts us in high spirits despite the heat,” Durakovic said.
“I am very happy that this is becoming an international movement, this is the direction I want to take the peace march,” he added.
“We have a lot more people this year who have never been to Srebrenica or were not even born during the genocide that have joined our movement.”
American Ambassador Patrick Moon and Bosnian Minister of Security Sadik Ahmetovic addressed the crowd before participants took off, wishing them a successful march to Potocari and thanking them for their commitment to ensuring that the world does not forget what happened in Srebrenica.
Groups started earlier this week on foot from the towns of Tuzla, Zenica and Gradacac, A group of marathoners sponsored by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic will run 227 kilometers to Srebrenica from the northern Croatian town of Vukovar, which holds a similarly iconic place in the Croatian imagination as does Srebrenica among Bosniaks.
Last year more than 6,000 marchers attended the event. Marchers bear Bosnian flags or flags of their home countries. Along the way they will have the opportunity to stop at marked mass graves for group discussions and history classes on the conditions and ambushes that occurred during the course of the original journey.
Led by the Bosnian Army’s 28th regiment, some of the original 1995 marchers made it to freedom in five days, but it took others up to 40 days of walking in the heavily mined woods with no food or supplies to reach free territory. Only a little more than a fifth of the original marchers survived.