Returning to Srebrenica

I was a bit apprehensive to return to Srebrenica. We had already done the Peace March and seen the burial of this year’s identified bodies on July 11th. We had watched multiple documentaries, met Hasan (a friend of the program and survivor of the genocide) and read countless articles. So what else was there to see or learn? I knew the story right?

I could not have been more wrong.  Our three-day excursion to Tuzla and Srebrenica was an experience that could never be replicated. The emotional first-hand accounts of loss, death, and fear we heard from victims and survivors while seeing the actual sites, was both emotionally exhaustive and enlightening. That is the big differentiator with this trip and visiting other sites of mass atrocities I have been to in my travels.

The ability to hear the first-hand accounts in addition to seeing the sites and reading the informational plaques or watching the documentaries. Joseph Stalin, arguably the greatest perpetrator of mass killings in history, once said, “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics”. I feel terms of Srebrenica, for most people (myself included until this trip) that this is true. You heard the actual story, you knew the numbers, but until hearing from those who survived you don’t fully grasp the pain involved. It’s difficult o hear those stories, but it makes the genocide real in a way that no amount of numbers or factual information can.

For me, in particular, hearing Nura’s story, a sweet and dignified Bosnian woman who lost her three sons and her husband, was particularly painful. Her story was not uncommon, but her telling this story and looking at me, as the only young man on this trip, and saying that it was hard for her to look at me while choking back tears because I reminded her of her sons who were around my age was haunting. I had no idea how to respond to her and still don’t. I gave her a warm smile and a hug, but how are you supposed to respond to that? It was a moment that will be etched in my mind forever.

For this blog post, I could have talked about the failures of the international community, the complex mechanisms in place, and the political theories that give sense to how this happened. That is after all my comfort zone; it’s what I study in school. What this trip taught me though is that the cold logic I approach things with at most times may not always be the best lens through which to analyze a situation. This genocide affected real people, and has a real impact those that were survivors and victims, with repercussions well beyond those immediately involved. This trip unequivocally proved to me, that no matter the number of deaths, it is never just a statistic.

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