I keep thinking, “No one is ever going to understand this trip.” Specifically, I am referring to the people back home who love me unconditionally but ask me, “Why Bosnia?” How am I ever going to choose the right words to adequately convey the tragedy, resilience, sadness, and laughter I have seen from the Bosnian people who have so kindly shared their horror with us? The past two days have been simultaneously incredible and painful—as only places with wounds can be.
From standing amongst the remains of the 20,000+ missing persons at the International Commission on Missing Persons in Tuzla to gazing out at the headstones of the 8,372 people massacred at the hands of Mladvić and his troops at the Srebrenica Memorial, nothing about the past two days have been easy. But the most difficult experience of this journey so far has been saying good-bye to Saliha.
Saliha lives alone in a beautiful house with the most impressive garden that she tends to herself. She lost her two sons, Edin and Nermin, and her husband, Ramo in 1995; Edin died on July 6, 1995 and Nermin and Ramo were murdered a few days later during the July 1995 massacre that killed over 8,372 people (mostly men and boys).
As I write this, I keep thinking I won’t be able to do justice for Saliha’s story. There is no way to capture the gracious, generous, and incredibly loving woman who opened her home and her heart to us. She has testified in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, facing down the men responsible for taking away the people she loved most in this world, she has been interviewed over and over and over again by the Independent, BBC, and other news outlets, and she has traveled all over the world in order to tell her story so as to stop the next genocide.
And then last night, there we were, gathered around her tables outside next to her garden, waiting for the sun to set and for fasting to end. After we ate, she shared her story with us. We listened intently as she told us about being forced to flee Srebrenica after living as refugees in the small town for over two years, and how she was separated from her husband and son only days after burying her youngest son. She was not able to bury Ramo or Nermin until 2008—over ten years after their deaths.
After we shared the gifts we had brought Saliha, we had to say good-bye (but not until she had insisted on digging up some flowers from her garden for Caitlin). As we drove away, she followed us out into the street, crying and waving good-bye.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission failed Saliha in July 1995. After declaring Srebrenica a safe zone in 1993, the refugees thought they might have a chance at making it out of the war alive. But after taking away the few arms the refugees had and calling off promised airstrikes, the United Nations left the Muslims of Srebrenica sitting ducks. The head Dutch Peacekeeper Karremans even let war criminal Mladić deliver gifts to him and his wife in Srebrenica after the massacre. Denying the genocide of over 8,000 people was not just reserved for the killers but also the men and women put in charge of keeping Srebrenica safe.
So this July 11 won’t just be another July 11th to me and I hope it won’t be for you either.
Here’s Saliha in her own words.