By SABINA NIKSIC, Associated Press
SREBRENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) — They are the ones who lived in a world where their husbands, sons, brothers, uncles and nephews were slaughtered. They are the ones who fought to ensure that the world neither denies nor forgets the truth about what happened in Srebrenica.
As thousands of people converge on the eastern Bosnian town to commemorate the 27th anniversary of Europe’s only recognized genocide since World War II on Monday, the crucial role women played in forging a global understanding of the massacre of 1995 is also recognized.
A permanent exhibition of portrait photos of women from Srebrenica opened on Saturday at a memorial center dedicated to the more than 8,000 victims of the massacre. The center of Potocari, just outside the city, is set to host an international conference of women discussing how they found the strength to fight for justice after being driven from their homes and seeing their loved ones taken away to be killed.
“After surviving the genocide in which my beloved child and my husband were killed, it was the injustice of their killers, their refusal to acknowledge what they did and to repent, that made me driven to fight for truth and justice,” Munira said. Subasic.
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Subasic’s relatives were among more than 8,000 ethnic Bosnian men and boys, mostly Muslims, who died in a 10-day massacre after the town was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in recent months of the 1992-1995 fratricidal war in Bosnia. war.
Bosnian Serb soldiers plowed the bodies of the victims into hastily built mass graves, then dug up the sites with bulldozers and scattered the remains among other burial sites to hide evidence of their crimes.
Bosnian women and children were crammed into buses and expelled from the city.
But as soon as the war was over, Subasic and other women who had shared his fate vowed to find the remains of their loved ones, bring them back to their town and bury them there.
To do this, they created an organization, Mothers of Srebrenica, which engaged in street protests and other actions to stay in the public eye. They demanded that the mass graves be found, the remains identified and those responsible for the massacre punished. To date, nearly 90% of those missing since the fall of Srebrenica have been found.
“People often ask us who supported us, who supported us in the beginning. But it was nobody, we did it by ourselves,” said Sehida Abdurahmanovic.
“Pain is the best and most difficult education, but also the most honest, because it comes straight from the heart,” she added.
Since the end of the war, Srebrenica has been located in the Bosnian Serb-ruled entity of Republika Srpska, while many of its pre-war inhabitants live in the country’s other entity, the Bosnian-Croat Federation.
In the immediate post-war period, mobs of angry Bosnian Serbs did their best to prevent women who had lived through the bloodshed from visiting newly discovered mass graves to search for items that had belonged to their relatives. To intimidate them, crowds lined the streets, shouting and throwing stones at the buses carrying the women.
But the women came back. For a long time they had to be escorted by NATO-led peacekeepers, but they always refused to bury their identified dead anywhere other than Srebrenica.
Finally, in 2003, the Bosnian Serb authorities bowed under pressure and allowed the survivors to open the victims’ memorial cemetery in the city.
So far, the remains of more than 6,600 people have been recovered and buried at the cemetery. The remains of 50 other victims, recently found in mass graves and identified by DNA analysis, will be buried there on Monday.
Dozens of women from Srebrenica testified before the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, helping to put behind bars nearly 50 wartime Bosnian Serb officials who were collectively sentenced to more than 700 years of jail.
“After my husband was killed and I was left alone with our two children, I thought I wouldn’t be able to function, but the pain kept us going,” Abdurahmanovic said.
Raised in a patriarchal society, women in Srebrenica were meant to suffer in silence and not confront Serbian leaders, who continue to downplay or even deny the 1995 massacre. Instead, they turned their lives around, creating groups of support, memorializing the victims and telling their trauma to all who were willing to listen, including queens, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats and journalists.
“The story of what happened in Srebrenica was written on white marble tombstones in the memorial cemetery, which would not have existed if we had not insisted,” said Suhra Sinanovic, who lost her husband and 23 other close male relatives in the massacre.
She said the Bosnian Serb authorities had underestimated the women of Srebrenica.
“If, God forbid, a war were to break out again in Bosnia, maybe (the Serbs) would do things differently by letting the men live and killing the women,” she said.
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