Our Mother of Srebrenica: Hatidža Mehmedović

As we got off the bus and set foot on to Srebrenican soil, it became obvious that this place had experienced mass death. The silence that filled the air screamed its own devastating past.

We saw the warehouse, where the UN peacekeepers held their fort. Although Srebrenica had been declared a UN ‘safe’ zone, the 60,000 Bosnians who fled to its doors were to be handed over to Bosnian Serb forces; almost voluntarily it seemed.

It was quiet.. The valley echoed our already hushed voices.

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The graveyard was just across the road from the warehouse where the many that were promised safety were failed. The irony was too close to home. As Ambreen put it, it was so peaceful, it was almost dead. The only sign of life was the water feature in the entrance which sounded so strange in the still, unmoving air.

Our group gathered around and sat on the marble white floor; it felt like we were in school again, although the lesson we were about to hear would move us to tears, or quiet sobs in our case.

On first glance, Hatidža had a calm, soothing face. She struck me as a mother figure, she glittered when she saw most of our group were young women and said we were her daughters. She had a very motherly nature about her.

As she began to speak of her story, the calmness on her face dropped slightly.

She began as others had on our trip. With historical background to the war and the build up to the genocide; emphasis on the peaceful, neighbourly life of the Srebrenicans.

The sun shone brightly behind her.

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She began with how grateful she was.  A trait so unique all those we met who had experienced the genocide. I felt uneasy that she thanked us for our presence. We felt overwhelmingly humbled to be with her, listening.

“I like to see that predominately its young people.. our future is children and young people. And I’m very glad you came here to see because its much easier when you come here rather than listening about it”.

She became more passionate when she spoke.

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The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) became central to retrieving and identifying bones found in the mass graves.

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They also had a department which dealt with the families of the remains they found; they met with Hatidža:

“I remember asking.. can you tell me which one?

And he said I’m sorry but due to the fact that your sons were so young we are not able to tell you if it’s the older one or the younger one.

At the same he told me that some of my husbands body parts had been found.

And all this was happening on the 13th November 2007, 12 years after the genocide.

On the 10th May 2010 they called me to say they had found my other son. Again I asked, can you tell me which one of my boys is it this time.

And they said yes, this is your older son.

I asked if it was a complete body and unfortunately they said no.

They had found two shin bones.

And I said I’m not going to bury two bones. I’m not going to bury him until his whole body is found. They told me unfortunately we cannot promise that we will find anything else because the bodies have been scattered all around.

The mass graves have been tampered with”.

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One of the most startling things I had learnt on our trip was that the Bosnian genocide, was the first time in recorded history there had been tertiary mass graves.

As if a genocide wasn’t enough, the perpetrators dug up the bodies, re-buried them in to secondary graves, and once more re-dug the remains and buried them close to the Bosnia/Serbia border. As if to redress the bodies found as bodies killed in battle.

A demented ideology those involved must have had.

But the most painful words of the day, she spoke:

“So in 2010 I buried both of my sons and my husband”.

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A conversation with Hasan filled me with hope however. I asked:

“Do you think there will ever be justice?” and he replied:

“No. Never. However the Mothers of Srebrenica live in the hope that they will be reunited with their loved ones in heaven”

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          ~Melissa

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