Srebrenica.

I am sitting on the patio of a tiny corner café sipping a cappuccino, thinking that if one must write their musings on war and genocide this is the most pleasant of places to go about doing it. Srebrenica. It is difficult to put into words the feelings and experiences I have had the past two days. After a five hour night’s sleep it all seemed very much like a dream. In a more accurate sense, more like a nightmare.
The trip began in Tuzla, where we visited the International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP) which combines forensic anthropology and DNA testing to identify the remains found in the mass graves littering the surrounding countryside of Srebrenica. Currently there are approximately 1,000 victims waiting to be laid to rest in the musty morgue of the ICMP. The director of this center was very exact- spouting off facts about how many have been identified, buried, and how many are left to go. She told us why her job was so difficult in the first place- after the genocide was found out, perpetrators began to move the primary mass graves of victims to secondary as well as tertiary graves to make it more difficult for the international community to determine if this was in fact a war crime. However, when separating the mass graves the perpetrators did not take whole bodies- after decomposition had already begun the remains of most victims did not stay together and were instead strewn across the land. Scientists at the ICMP must be extremely sure of their decision to match bones together, and rely solely on DNA evidence. However, 20 years later, the decomposition of bones has made it almost impossible to extract viable sources of DNA from every bone found. In a nutshell, this courageous woman faces an uphill battle. She may find a finger bone and nothing else belonging to an individual, but continues to day after day toil away in that hot and muggy facility to piece together skeletons so that they may finally bring peace to their loved ones and find peace themselves. The ICMP may pull funding from this project in the near future if the numbers of identifications do not increase substantially, yet she still continues to serve the victims and their families until the very last moment. I found this place truly inspiring. So often social workers consider themselves talkers, touchy feely, and warm. This woman, a scientist through and through who did not ask how I felt about this and seemed cold to such warm bubbly personalities, shows us that social work is more than that. It is the experience of truly valuing the dignity and worth of a person and committing ourselves to that cause despite the obstacles. She is a social worker if I have ever met one.
icmp
We then traveled to Srebrenica with many stops on the way. We were guided by a survivor of the genocide Hassan Hasanovic who had lived in Srebrenica and escaped by hiking for several days and nights through the mountains to free territory in Tuzla. He showed us different sites of mass graves and where he walked on his death march while driving into Srebrenica. After spending time with him at the memorial and having dinner at Saliha’s (another survivor) I better understand the events which took place. The experience of hearing each story firsthand was incredibly powerful, but what was even more striking was the forgiveness. Never have I met such peaceful, understanding, forgiving people. Destiny is very important in Bosnia, and particularly in the Muslim religion. Both Saliha and Hassan said that all their experiences, both good and bad, were meant to be and each of us have a purpose and reason for all we do. I was so moved by this noble take on the world even after experiencing such a horrendous atrocity. Their resilience inspires me and teaches me patience and forgiveness, something I hope to keep with me much longer than just the time spent here.
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