Raindrops and Roses

I woke up early this morning and sat on the porch of the hotel, watching the city of Sarajevo bustle with life. I sat contemplating and reflecting on the last few days, the experiences in Tuzla and Srebrenica. I was gifted some flowers, beautiful and red, bringing my thoughts to the rain and Srebrenica and to the rose and Sarajevo.

The weather the last few days has been overcast and rainy, creating a somber ambiance that’s fitting for the emotions of our experiences. I think of the rose metaphor I’ve been using to describe my time in Sarajevo and find the rain fitting for my time in Srebrenica. I’ve always had a fondness for rain, finding peace and solace in the falling rain drops and the gray skies—and yet, here, it also held a melancholy tone.

In Tuzla, we first visited the International Commision on Missing Persons (ICMP). The organization works to identify the bones that are found in the execution sites’ primary and secondary mass graves. They have identified roughly 80% of those who were unaccounted for, but still have roughly 1000 still to find and identify. Dragana Vučetić, the forensic anthropologist at Tuzla’s ICMP, highlighted something that stuck out for me: the importance of continuing to search for those still missing because of the families who are impacted. I was struck by the determination of those at the ICMP and their commitment to these families.

We next visited the Association of Women in Srebrenica-Tuzla and met the Vice President, Nura Begović. Walking into the home the association operates out of was an intense experience. Covering the walls are photos of men and boys who were killed in the Srebrenica genocide. I’ve found it is easy to get wrapped up in the facts and dates of the war, yet seeing these photos and hearing Nura speak her story connected a very real and human aspect.

We also visited the Srebrenica genocide memorial in Potocari, located now in the former headquarters for the Dutch battalion of UN soldiers from 1994-1995. Inside are rooms describing the different aspects of the Srebrenica genocide: the tensions leading up to the Bosnian referendum for independence, the genocide and failure of the international community, the Dayton peace agreement, and subsequent actions to identify those missing. A film and multimedia room accompanied these rooms, which, for me, added names and faces and personal stories.

This human aspect is so important for remembering the Srebrenica genocide and those who were affected—highlighted again and again in speaking to survivors of the genocide. Hearing from and spending time with Saliha Osmanović and Nura Mustafić was awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. As mothers who had lost their husbands and children in the genocide, their resilience and strength is indescribable in its magnitude. They want their story to be heard and spread by those who hear it in the hope that nothing like this happens again. Hearing also from Hasan Hasanović, Nedžad Avdić, and Ramiz Nukić, each of whom had survived the death march, was horrifying and awe-inspiring. I was left speechless by each of their resilience and strength.

It rained for the majority of the day in Srebrenica, as though even the clouds were weeping for those affected by the genocide and the war. I found it difficult to forget the war had happened while in Srebrenica, despite the reconstruction of homes and a lack of acknowledgement (or outright denial of the genocide) by many members of the community. I wonder now how it is possible for anyone to deny what took place here, especially in the face of the stories of those who survived.

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