Masses of people, some 30,000, gathered outside a large Dutch UN camp opposite the graveyard memorial where we, now, sat under the cool shadow of an open mosque in the memorial. In the large UN “protected”, “safe space” the Dutch only allowed in 3,000 women with children, leaving the rest in the merciless hands of the Serb soldiers. Young boys were slaughtered – one mother, with a broken heart, recounts the heart-wrenching story of her 14 year old son, “He had light hair and beautiful green eyes which swelled with tears and he was so scared of them when they came to take him away but there was no one to turn to, no one to help.” Hatidza said, “The boys they took away to kill were innocent school children. The Serbs tied their hands at the back with wires, tortured them, lined them up in front of the firing squad and flung their bodies in mass graves. My heart bleeds at the thought of how my teenage sons felt just before they were shot dead.”
Without their fathers, brothers, sons, male cousins and uncles, the women were vulnerable, so the army turned on them next like scavengers. They converted schools and factory houses into concentration camps for rape, drunk with the poison of hatred and the intention of impregnating Muslim Bosniaks with Serbian blood – the heavy abuse caused the deaths of many of innocent women. Hatidza’s sister, with thousands of other young women, was one victim of rape. Hatidza said her sister has children but won’t ever talk about this; she added with tears pouring down her cheeks “women went mad after what they experienced. I will not talk about this”. As a Muslim woman, whose very identity is built on the concept of avoiding shame (sharmindagi) and maintaining physical honour (haya) it was worse than death. “Killed Souls” is the title of one sketch in the Bosniak Institute in Sarajevo done by Mevludin Ekmecic which shows a young teenage girl heavily abused by soldiers in front of her parents and younger siblings. The subtitle reads, “I forgive you my life but save my dignity”.
[quote]They converted schools and factory houses into concentration camps for rape[/quote]
Hatidza is lucky amongst the Mothers of Srebrenica, as the remains of her beloved sons and husband were found. Other mothers till today only live to find the remains of their sons in order to give them the human dignity of burial. Hatidza said, “This is not life, it is pain to live in this condition. I am alone, without anyone! I long for my sons”. When the bones of one of her sons were recovered from the mass graves he was finally laid to rest but sadly, Hatidza said, crying, without the bones of his lower legs. The Serbs, we were told, in an attempt to hide this terrible genocide had dug up graves several times and changed their locations by transporting the bodies in trucks to various mass grave sites. “They tell their children”, she said, “that they are heroes and that they won a battle against “the Turks”, but they don’t tell them that the victims were civilians”. Hatidza adds, “We don’t ask for much. We do not want to kill in return. We do not want revenge. But we want justice and to live as equal human beings with the international world recognizing our right to exist in Europe where we are born from its very clay and have lived for generations.”
Hatidza is a metaphor for Bosnia. Just as Hatidza says she is alone, the Bosniaks feel they are alone following their experience of genocide in Europe with the UN and international community looking the other way and in their own words, “turning a blind eye” to this inglorious taint (daagh) on human history. The way Bosniaks were treated is a shared shame for all of us. Pakistan, I am glad to say, was one of the few countries, amongst others, who helped. The tragedy is even more acute because the Bosnian army was so ill-equipped it had a choice between protecting the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, or Srebrenica. With lack of resources – one pistol with only a few bullets to 12 men, the Muslims chose to protect the capital, Sarajevo, taking a chance on Srebrenica, which was declared a “protected zone” by the UN. The UN, sadly, failed to protect the civilians and even played the devil’s advocate in this case and, therefore, locals now say and write that the UN in Bosnia’s case was “United for Nothing” (in the Srebrenica exhibition in Sarajevo and elsewhere). The Serbs, we were told, planned to take over Sarajevo in 15 days and swallow up the rest of Bosnia in 30 days. But, this never happened: like Jang–e-Badar, the Bosniaks miraculously fought off the Serbs for more than three years or 1,425 days with a heavy cost to their own lives and their country while saving it. Many Bosniaks suffer and live today with the consequences of that war – Mehmet (Muhammad) one of our very nice hosts lost his right hand and left eye in a grenade attack and his younger brother lost a leg. Women told us they were shot at by firing from the air and cannot sleep peacefully with those nightmares of man’s aggression still haunting them and their children.
The brunt of the tragedy is not only felt by its citizens but also by its buildings (80% of the buildings I saw had bullet wounds on them) and sadly two million books were burnt, blown up and lost in the war. Amongst these precious holy Qurans and books of great wisdom and knowledge – a treasure to our literary world. The Director of the Gazi Husrev library said to us that human beings were tragically killed but can be replaced by the birth of other human beings but those books lost can never be replaced. The passion for knowledge amongst the Bosniaks is what made them special for me amongst the umma. Indeed, the pain felt by Bosnia’s Muslim intellectuals and philosophers as European citizens on the periphery is captured beautifully by Mehmed Mesa Selimovic (the local spelling of Muhammad Musa Salim):
“History had never made such a joke with anyone as it did with us… We had been torn away and disconnected and were not accepted. Like a branch of the river which had been separated from the mother river by a torrential flood and it had neither a stream nor its mouth of the river, too small to be a lake and too big for a soil to absorb it within itself. We live at the crossroads of the worlds, on a border of nations; we bear the brunt of everybody, and we have always been guilty in the eyes of someone. The waves of history break themselves over our backs, as on a reef.” [In Essays (on Behalf) of Bosnia By Enes Karic, 1999]
To be continued…