Newly identified victims of Srebrenica genocide laid to rest

26th Jul 2019
Newly identified victims of Srebrenica genocide laid to rest

Relatives of the Srebrenica Genocide victims mourn by the coffins at the Srebrenica–Potocari Memorial, ahead of the burial of recently identified remains of 33 victims of the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 11
(Photo: Samir Yordamoviç/Anadolu Agency)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The 24th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide was marked on July 11 in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the burial of 33 newly identified victims.

Newly identified victims of the genocide that took place from July 11 to July 22, 1995, are laid to rest every July at Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Centre, alongside thousands of victims already buried there. It is estimated that over 8,300 Bosnian Muslims were killed in the genocide carried out by the Christian Serb troops.

This year’s funerals take the total number of burials in the cemetery to 6,643. Osman Cvrk, who was only 16 when he was killed, was the youngest victim to be buried this year. Saha Cvrk, the oldest, was 82. She is the only woman to be buried at this year’s ceremony. Many victims were ambushed along forest routes while fleeing Srebrenica in scorching heat without food or water. They were either shot on the spot or taken to collective centres where they were executed and thrown into mass graves.

Thousands of visitors from around the world attended the funeral service and burials. The memorial centre is the focal point of remembrance for friends and relatives of the victims, mostly men and boys, murdered by Bosnian Serb militias. At the service, relatives of the victims bid emotional final farewells to their loved ones. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that history will never forget the Srebrenica genocide. “Srebrenica genocide, which took place before the eyes of Europe and claimed lives of 8,372 innocent people, will never be forgotten throughout the history,” Erdoğan said on Twitter.

On July 9, Erdoğan together with Bosnian officials and members of the public prayed for the victims and placed flowers on a truck carrying the bodies of newly identified victims in the capital Sarajevo. People gathered at the historic bridge in Mostar to throw lilies into the Neretva River, symbolising 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 on July 8 also took off from Austria’s capital Vienna. On July 7, thousands of people from all over the world set off on a three-day commemorative peace march in the town of Nezuk near the Bosnian city of Tuzla. More than 6,000 participants travelled about 22 miles each day to reach Potočari, spending the nights in designated wooded areas. During the long walk, they heard details of the genocide and the memories of survivors who took the so-called ‘Death Road’ in their attempt to flee Bosnian Serb forces during the war. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces attacked in 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 Christian 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 Mladić overran the UN zone. Mladić was sentenced in 2017 to life imprisonment after he, too, was found guilty of genocide and war crimes.

The Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing about 2,000 men and boys on July 11. Some 15,000 people from Srebrenica fled into the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 of them in the forests.
Victims were thrown into mass graves scattered around Srebrenica. It took years for investigators to locate all the sites and complete DNA testing of the bodies. Body parts were often mixed in different locations, making it harder for investigators to make the match.

Most of the victims’ remains have been found in mass graves near Srebrenica, but more than 1,000 are still considered missing from the mass slaughter during the Bosnian War.
Šefik Džaferović, the Bosniak (Muslim Bosnian) member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, said it is difficult to be a member of a presidency whose chairman denies the Srebrenica genocide, referring to Milorad Dodik, the Serb currently helming the presidency. Although the massacre was branded genocide by international courts, Serbian and Bosnia Serb officials continue to refuse to refer to it as that.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, who also was at the summit, branded Srebrenica mass killings a “horrible crime,” but again stopped short of calling itgenocide.
However, Vladimir Đukanović a Serbian lawmaker from the ruling Progressive Party branded the Srebrenica massacre “liberation” and thanked Mladić for a “brilliantly conducted military operation.

Đukanović’s statement came a day before the 24th anniversary and latest burials. “I want to congratulate the Serbian people on the day of the liberation of Srebrenica. Thanks to General Ratko Mladić on the brilliantly conducted military operation,” Đukanović wrote on Twitter. In a joint statement, Serbian rights groups said in a statement that it is “shameful” that no ruling Serb official has ever called the widely and internationally accepted fact that what happened in Srebrenica was the worst kind of ethnically-inspired crime.

Nenad Popović, a minister in Serbia’s Government, said in a statement that “there was no genocide in Srebrenica and Serbs will never accept to be stamped as genocidal people. He said Serbia should rethink its goal of becoming an EU member because of such claims. Western officials disagreed. “Today marks the passage of 24 years since the genocide in Srebrenica,” US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said in a statement.“This painful chapter in European history must never be denied nor forgotten. We stand with those who continue to seek justice.

A joint statement issued by Federica Mogherini, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, using the term “genocide,” called it “one of the darkest moments of humanity in modern European history.
“There is no place for inflammatory rhetoric, for denial, revisionism or the glorification of war criminals,” the statement said. “Attempts to rewrite history in Bosnia and Herzegovina or anywhere are unacceptable.”

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