25th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide marked with burial of newly identified victims

24th Jul 2020
25th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide marked with burial of newly identified victims

Relatives of Srebrenica Genocide victims walking to pay respects to the dead murdered by Christian Serbian forces during the commemoration ceremony in Srebrenica,  Bosnia & Herzegovina on July 13. (Credit: Adem Mehmedović/Anadolou Agency)

 

Harun Nasrullah

A quarter of a century after they were murdered in Europe’s worst massacre since World War II, nine newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide were laid to rest at a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Every year on July 11, newly identified victims of the genocide that took place from July 11 to July 22, 1995, are laid to at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery in the presence of visitors and dignitaries from around the world.

More than 8,300 Bosnian Muslim men and boys perished in ten days of slaughter after the town was overrun by Bosnian Christian Serb forces that attacked Srebrenica, despite the presence of Dutch peacekeeping troops.

Srebrenica, which was declared a ‘safe area’ in the spring of 1993 by the UN, was besieged by Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladić who were trying to wrestle territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form their own state. Mladić was later found guilty of war crimes and genocide.

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 residents fled into the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 of them in the forests.

Their Serb executioners ploughed their bodies into mass graves and then later dug up with bulldozers and scattered among other burial sites to hide the evidence of the war crime. Reports suggest some were buried alive, while some adults were forced to watch their children being killed.

The memorial centre is the focal point of remembrance for friends and relatives of the victims, mostly men and boys, murdered. Salko Ibišević, who was only 23 when he was killed, was the youngest victim to be buried this year. Hasan Pezić, the oldest, was 70.

They were buried along with Alija Suljic 26, Bajro Salihović 52, Hasib Hasanović 25, Ibrahim Zukanović 54, Kemal Music 27, Sead Hasanović 24 and Zuhdija Avdagić 48.

At this year’s ceremony, video messages from more than 35 current and ex-world leaders, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former President of the United States Bill Clinton and the Prince of Wales were played.

“It’s been profoundly moving for me… to continue to add my voice to those across the world who grieve for the families of those killed,” Clinton said. “It’s a brazen reminder of the terrible cost to all of us when we turn our backs on our shared humanities,” he added.

Prince Charles said, “the terrible events of July 1995, confirmed as genocide by international courts, are a dreadful stain on our collective conscience.”
“The international community failed those who were killed, those who somehow survived and those who endured the terrible loss of their loved ones,” he said.

The United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said, “Many perpetrators have still not been held to account”, adding that he wanted to “stand with the families in their fight for justice.”

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated his country’s support for Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Although I am not physically among you because of the coronavirus, my feelings and thoughts are always in Bosnia, always with you… We will never forget our martyrs nor the genocide in Srebrenica,” he said.

Šefik Džaferović, the Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] member of the Presidency of Bosnia, said that Srebrenica has become synonymous with the suffering of innocent people, and the crime committed was called by the only real name — genocide.

“Today, we are here in the Potočari valley of sorrow and pain to see off together the remains of nine innocent victims, some of whom were young men, killed only because they […] were Bosniaks,” Džaferović said.
“Today, 25 years later, the whole civilized world has become aware of the scale of the crime committed and the mistakes made,” said Džaferović.

Slovenian President, Borut Pahor said, “We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. For the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the key is truth and not denial, respect and not hatred, open dialogue and not quarrel.”

President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović said, “It is a testimony to the terrible reality of a bloody war, an eternal warning and reminder to all our people that without the truth of the past there is no peaceful or secure future.”

Ahead of the ceremony, European leaders called for remembrance of the horrifying event. In a joint statement EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council President, Charles Michel, and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said, “We must confront the past with honesty and look to the future with a determination to support the next generations.”

At the historic and iconic bridge in Mostar people gathered on July 9 to throw white lilies into the Neretva River, symbolizing the innocence of the genocide’s victims.

Elsewhere, hundreds of motorcyclists from across Europe held a procession from the country’s capital Sarajevo to Srebrenica to commemorate the victims. More than 300 cyclists from across the country also gathered in the northern city of Bihać to honour the victims. A group of 10 cyclists also took off from Austria’s capital Vienna.

On July 8, a three-day peace march in Zvornik to commemorate the genocide began under the shadow of the coronavirus.

Traditionally thousands of people from all over the world come to the Bosnian town of Nezuk every year to participate in the march. This year, it started from Crni Vrh near Zvornik, as new coronavirus cases were recently detected in Nezuk.

The participants marched for three days and spent nights at designated areas before concluding at a cemetery in Potočari, where the funeral prayer and burial ceremony were held for nine victims. Since 2005, thousands of people have attended the Marš mira (peace march) following the same forest path used by the victims when they fled the genocide.

 

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