Remembering Srebrenica – 20 years later.
(article by Haziq Ali, Alchemy Arts Blogger & Social Media Manager)
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide which took place in 1995, in Bosnia, (then part of the wider Yugoslavia nation) and is regarded as the single greatest atrocity committed in Europe since the Holocaust. The genocide, which took place in mid July of that year, saw over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males murdered in brutal acts of racial hatred by units of the Bosnian Serb Army (Army of Republika Srpska), as well as over 23,000 women and children forcibly deported and subjected to violent, damning methods of torture.
I was able to attend a Memorial Event/Iftar on Wednesday 8th July 2015 at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, in Manchester. As someone who did not know the extent of the horrors that unfolded during the Bosnian War, I was completely unprepared for the heartbreaking stories, speeches and videos presented at the event.
The event featured many respected guest speakers, including Imam Abid Khan from Cheadle Mosque who opened proceedings in the most fitting way, with a beautiful reading of Surat Al-Fatiha, Elinor Chohan from the Remembering Srebrenica charity, Sir Peter Fahey, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police who talked about the need for promoting racial and community cohesion and standing firm against the fascist idea of “them versus us”, Yusuf Dar from the Community Safety Forum and a very special lady, Ms Dudila Cellic who gave an eye witness account of the horrors that occurred in Srebrenica. Ms Cellic spoke of how she was forced to leave her family behind, her husband and elder sons staying behind to face their inevitable capture and death, how she herself hid away with her 3 younger children in the back of a truck belonging to a brave driver who drove her from Sarajevo to Zagreb, in Croatia where she found her way to a refugee camp.
Why did such an act of racial hatred occur only half a century after the end of World War II, one may ask? Why did the people of Europe not learn from mistakes made in the past?
The Massacre came amidst the breakup of former Yugoslavia, a huge nation made up of six Socialist Republics, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia, now all countries in their own right. Bosnia’s independence came in April 1992. In Bosnia, Muslims represented the largest single population group, in a 1991 census Bosnia’s population of some 4 million was 44 percent Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim’s), 31 percent Serb and 17 percent Croatian. Elections held in late 1990 resulted in a coalition government split between parties representing the three ethnicities led by the Bosniak Alija Izetbegovic. As tension built in the country, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his Serbian Democratic Party withdrew from the government and set up their own “Serbian National Assembly.”
Over the next several years, Bosnian Serb forces, with the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, laid siege to Bosnia in their attempts to establish a “Greater Serbia” state in the region that Serbian separatists had long envisioned. In early May 1992, just days after Bosnia’s independence was recognized, Bosnian Serb forces launched their offensive with an attack on Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. They attacked towns in eastern Bosnia, including Zvornik, Foca, and Visegrad, forcibly expelling Bosniak civilians from the region, in a process referred to as “ethnic cleansing”.
Bosnian forces tried to defend the territory, however by the end of 1993, Bosnian Serb forces were in control of nearly three-quarters of the country. By the summer of 1995, just three towns in eastern Bosnia, Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde, remained under control of the Bosnian government. The U.N. had declared these towns as “safe havens” in 1993, to be disarmed and protected by international peacekeeping forces. On July 11, however, Bosnian Serb forces advanced on Srebrenica, overwhelming a battalion of Dutch soldiers stationed there. Serbian soldiers subsequently separated the innocent Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, putting the women and girls on buses and sending them to Bosnian-held territory. Many of the women, some just young teenagers, were sexually assaulted and tortured by the depraved Serbian soldiers, while the unarmed and defenceless men and boys who remained behind were mercilessly gunned down on the spot or taken to mass killing sites (Death Camps), which bears a spine tingling resemblance to Hitler’s unforgiveable massacre of the Jews in World War II. The number of Bosniak’s murdered by the Serbs totals more than 8,000 innocent human lives, guilty of nothing but their name and ethnicity. The atrocity was stopped over the coming months when NATO finally stepped in and pressured the Serb forces into peace talks, with military force of their own. Sadly, the damage had already been done, the families of Bosnia torn apart by one of the most violent and hate filled acts of genocide ever committed. No guarantee of peace could ever bring back those sons, husbands, brothers and fathers who were massacred in a far-right fuelled hate campaign, nor could justice reverse the terrifying ordeals experienced by the daughters, wives, sisters and mothers of Srebrenica.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his government will spend an extra £1.2m on the commemoration of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre to ensure “the events of that day are not forgotten”. When speaking about the tragedy, he is quoted as saying “The 20th anniversary is a moment to remember the many thousands who lost their lives, to remember their families and the missing and the fact that for so many – including the mothers of Srebrenica – the agony continues every day, undimmed by the passing of time. We must reaffirm our determination to act to prevent genocide in the future.”
To conclude, I would like to say that despite my dismay at the stories and facts I heard that on the evening of the 8th July, I am pleased I took the time to head down to the Muslim Heritage Centre for the Remembering Srebrenica event, I found it to be very informative and eye opening, as well as serving as a solid reminder that racial hatred campaigns are something that cannot just be brushed under the carpet, branded as “far-right lunacy”, but something that must be addressed and stood up to, before, (and I shudder at the very thought of this) something like Srebrenica is allowed to happen again. We must make it unacceptable for derogatory words against different ethnicity’s and religions to be uttered, even in a joking manner. Making a “joke” about someone’s skin colour, or their country of origin is the first stage of far-right extremism/fascism, and it is at that level that racism needs to be tackled and stamped out. We must challenge hate, in all its forms and promote cultural diversity, for it is one of life’s greatest features. We must stand up for those weaker than us, facing oppression. We must support those who have been victims of war/genocide. We must look after one and other, regardless of whether or not they look like us. After all, the word “us” is universal. It cannot and should not be used to separate society off into groups. We were all made with the same key component; a heartbeat. We are all human.