By Ece Uyguç*
July 11, 2021 marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in which 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred by the Bosnian-Serb forces. The worst atrocity in Europe since World War II is still a bleeding wound for humanity.
Each year on July 11, mass gatherings take place at the Srebrenica Potocari memorial and cemetery. Those whose identities are determined by the studies carried out every year are buried in the Potocari memorial. Some of those who lost their lives in Srebrenica are still buried in mass graves in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
1992–1995 Bosnian War
During the collapse of Yugoslavia, the first massacres began in 1992 with the Bosnian War and continued till the Dayton Agreement in 1995.
After the Serbian and Croats, who wanted to seize Bosnia, declared their independence, the Bosnian Serbs, armed by the Serb-controlled Yugoslav army and intelligence units, started ethnic cleansing against Muslim Bosnians. The Bosnians, on the other hand, fought against the Serbs in the north and east, and the Croats in the south and west, under the leadership of their leader, Alija Izetbegovic, to preserve the integrity of the country.
In 1993, the UN declared Srebrenica as a “safe area” to be protected using “all necessary means, including the use of force.”
However, in July 1995 Serbs took control of the city. Serbian Forces entered the safe area of Srebrenica and slaughtered 8372 Bosnian civilians of men and boys in the forest, factories, and depots. The victims were put to mass graves. This massacre was later recognized as genocide by the international tribunals.
Turkey’s reaction to the massacre
From the beginning of the Serbian attacks on Muslim Bosnians, Turkey realized that it was not a civil war but an ethnic cleansing. Turkey, despite not being its member, managed to get the Human Rights Commission a special session. With the decision dated 1 December 1992 and numbered S-2/1, it was accepted that the criminal’s ethnic cleansing crime committed by the Serbs constituted a ‘crime against humanity.’ It was the first time Turkey put in a UN resolution that this crime could be considered genocide.
What happened to the war criminals responsible for the Srebrenica massacre
Republika Srpska leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Ratko Mladic, who were fugitives, were eventually caught in 2008 and 2011, respectively. They and some of their partners in crime have been sentenced to life imprisonment by the ICTY.
On 8 June 2021, the UN Court’s appeals chamber confirmed the initial verdict sentencing him to life imprisonment for the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats across the country, terrorizing the population of Sarajevo with shelling and sniping during the siege and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.
Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of the UN Court, told in a statement, “Mladic should be condemned by all responsible officials in the former Yugoslavia and around the world. His name should be consigned to the list of history’s most depraved and barbarous figures.”
This final verdict was welcomed both by the world leaders and the war survivors who lost their loved ones.
Survivors of Srebrenica and the hardships they face
In addition to the murder of nearly ten thousand innocent people, over 20,000 women and children were forcibly expelled from their homes.
The women who lost the male members of their families in the massacre are still tearful and face difficulties.
Families did not hear anything about the victims of the genocide for 10 years. Suddenly in 2005, they were informed that the bones of their family members were found. They heard that some belongings of the victims, a watch, a shirt, or a shoe were also determined. Despite this causing them to experience the pain all over again, it also gave them a beacon of hope to find a piece of their loved ones.
Every year on July 11, those whose identities are determined are sent to the mausoleum with a ceremony. At least, for most of them, they now have a grave to cry over. The searching for the bones of a woman’s husband, son, and brother, and finding at least a piece of them, is more of a burden than most people can bear. Even watching these families talk in the videos and learning what they went through is very heavy, and words are not enough to describe the pain of those who experienced them.
In addition to all these, this identification process progresses very slowly according to Nura Begovic, a member of the Women of Srebrenica Association. Speeding up this process may alleviate their suffering a little. International organizations should help in this regard.
One of the most painful aspects of the process is that many mothers die before they even reach the bones of their children. Currently, there are over 1,000 victims who could not be found because they could not be identified.
What the families who survived such a tragedy want is just a piece of bone of their losses and the criminals get the punishment they deserve because the victims were innocent men and boys over 11 years old.
What the world should do
· Genocide should be recognized and denial of it should be considered a crime.
· Families who lost their loved ones should be made easy to find their family members’ bones to at least alleviate their pain.
· Most importantly, we should never forget this genocide and we should not make it forgotten. It was done against innocent people and it was done only because of their religious identities.
· We should keep this atrocity in our minds and raise awareness about it in the international arena. We should show every effort we can to this end.
· A human being is a human being in the first place and should be treated as a human being, no matter what religion or ethnicity he/she belongs to.
All our prayers are for the victims of Srebrenica and their families. This is the shame of the entire world and should never happen again. We will let the entire world know that this massacre is a genocide.
*Ece Uyguç is an economist, a certified English-Turkish translator and an opinion writer. Currently studying international relations.
This article was published at Medium.com, and republished with permission.