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Bosnia & Herzegovina: Emotional scenes mark Srebrenica burials in Bosnia

12th Jul 2017
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Emotional scenes mark Srebrenica burials in Bosnia

By Talha Ozturk

 

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AA): Thousands of people have gathered at a memorial center and cemetery in Potocari, eastern Bosnia, to mark the 22nd anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

The memorial center — just northwest of Srebrenica — is the focal point of remembrance for friends and relatives of the more than 8,000 people, mostly men and boys, murdered by Bosnian Serb militias.

Seventy-one recently identified victims were buried in a collective funeral. Tears and silence accompanied the scene as the dozens of green coffins were lined up side-by-side.

There were emotional scenes as relatives of the victims prepared to bid their last farewells to their loved ones.

Mothers, wives, sisters and other relatives, with tears in their eyes, opened their hands in prayer, touching the flower-laden coffins.

Amid intense suffering, many were burying their loved ones after long years of waiting for their remains to be located and identified.

Meanwhile, relatives of previously buried victims were also gathering at the memorial to visit graves, to pray and to console the others.

“Never Forget” — a slogan born out of the Srebrenica genocide — could be read everywhere, the words borne on people’s clothes, vehicles and displayed on posters.

The youngest victim among the 71 dead to be buried on Tuesday was Damir Suljic, a 15-year-old boy. Suljic was buried next to his father (buried in 2009), his grandfather and uncle.

-‘Your pain is our pain’

Speaking at the ceremony, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told mourners Turkey would continue to ensure the genocide committed against Bosniaks in 1995 would not be forgotten.

“We see Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of us. Anywhere in Bosnia — in Sarajevo, in Srebrenica, in any other city — you know that if something happens to you, we feel your pain in Bursa, Istanbul, Ankara … All your pain is our pain,” he said.

Recalling the words of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that Srebrenica was one of the darkest stains in the history of the United Nations, Kurtulmus said it was a good-but-insufficient statement because Srebrenica remained one of the darkest spots in the history of humanity.

“How will we clean this stain? By bringing all criminals to justice … This means that we will support everything that is done with that goal in mind.

“We will make our contribution so that what happened in Srebrenica will never happen again,” said Kurtulmus.

The U.S. State Department also commemorated the atrocity, saying in a statement the U.S. “will not forget the horror of that time, and we will continue to stand with the families of those who lost their loved ones, tirelessly seeking justice and refuting efforts to deny the genocide.

“Our responsibility is not only toward the dead, but also toward the living,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “Only by building a better future for generations to come can we truly honor those lost in Srebrenica,” it added.

-‘Truth and justice’

Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bakir Izetbegovic, said that although reconciliation was important, it could not be built without “justice and truth”.

He had harsh words for a “silent and passive” UN, saying: “They have received accurate data on deadly massacres, have satellite imagery of growing mass graves, but have ‘covertly’ surrendered the ‘UN Protected Zone’ to total slavery, to be remembered as the most tragic moment of the United Nations and one of the darkest moments of human civilization,” he said.

More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces attacked the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch troops tasked with acting as international peacekeepers.

Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces who were trying to wrest territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form their own state.

The UN Security Council had declared Srebrenica a “safe area” in the spring of 1993. However, Serb troops led by General Ratko Mladic — who now faces genocide charges at The Hague — overran the UN zone.

The Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing about 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone. Some 15,000 Srebrenica people fled into the surrounding mountains but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 of them in the forests.

Izetbegovic said that reconciliation was not possible as long as genocide denial and “provocations” continued. A better future would not be possible “until the ideology that created the genocide in Srebrenica is completely defeated,” he added.

He also said he hoped that, in time, there would be positive developments “and that the Serbian people will find the strength, that their elites will find the strength, to face the truth and stop denying the genocide and crimes that have taken place throughout Bosnia”.

“This is the only right way to find a peaceful future … for our people, to make sure that no mother in Bosnia will ever ask for the bones of her children in mass graves,” he added.

[Photo: People pray after the funeral ceremony of newly identified 71 Srebrenica genocide victims, to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, at Potocari Memorial Center in Potocari village of Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 11, 2017.
Photographer: Muhabiri Ahmet Bolat/AA]

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