I know these past two days spent in Tuzla and Srebrenica will be times I continue to process and hold space for the memory. I want to express how grateful and privileged I feel to have met with survivors of Srebrenica, and for how welcoming and open they were with us. That I can travel to this country with a professor like Ann, and meet Hasan Hasanović, Nura Begović, Saliha Osmanović, Nura Mustafić, Nedžad Avdić and Ramiz Nukić, feels surreal. Unfortunately, the genocide has not been a part of my previous education, and while I can hear the timelines, data, and read the accounts, I believe listening to survivors is essential to justice and this belief has been reaffirmed ten-fold. I intend to honor their wishes and repeat their stories to the people in my life so that the impact they have had on me can ripple out.
Prior to coming to Bosnia, I became interested in an author who advocates for transforming American death practices. A theme from this has been the meaning of a good death in different cultures. Visiting the International Commission on Missing Persons caused me to reflect on this idea. Trauma, mass killings, genocide, and those left behind cannot be transformed into the peace and dignity that the closing of life deserves but finding the remains and some details of a loved one’s death is what can be given to those left behind. I have taken for granted knowing the circumstances and being able to bury those who I have known that have died. I am struggling with what it must feel like to have the process drawn out, wondering if it is possible for someone to have survived and accepting that you will never see these people again. What is the day that you know you are a widow, and then once you know this, how do you grieve without the ceremony of laying your loved one to rest?
As we continued our days in Tuzla and Srebrenica, something I was struck by was the willingness of the women to access their emotions in sharing the accounts of their trauma and what followed. Not understanding Bosnian, this was apparent in their voices and faces, and I am grateful that they were willing to undergo this emotional work for us. Nura, of the Association of Women in Srebrenica, recounted the loss of her brother and her days as a refugee in Tuzla. We frequently use the word strength when talking about surviving horror and dealing with the aftermath, but I think Nora and other survivors, really showed that going on living demands of you to organize and share your story. Working for justice is strength, but also a cry of grief.
Coming to Saliha’s home, it felt warm and lovingly created with her garden and fruit trees. To know that it was supposed to hold her husband, sons, and by now probably grandchildren, is difficult to feel. The video of her husband being forced to call to his son in the hills being shown in the aftermath prompts the ethical considerations of videos made by the Serbs being shown in news media, or shortly after the genocide. Knowing that there are those who deny the genocide pushes the case that evidence should be widely circulated but thinking about what showing videos such as this does to the family members urges hesitation. I don’t have an answer, and I am not sure there is one.
Before attending the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial and viewing the film, I was cognitively aware of what I was about to view. However, seeing the violence and how the soldiers treated the men elicited a strong reaction that I had not expected. Following this we met Nura and Nedžad, and while I felt emotionally heavy, I experienced it as necessary emotional work to stay present and absorb their stories, and as work that I wanted to do.
I will be remembering and processing their stories for some time, but in this moment, I want to reflect on what physical contact means in these meetings when we do not share the same language. Without always having someone next to me to translate, I found that all these women allowed us to express ourselves with a hug. I do not know if this gesture was in service to myself or them, but I feel connected to them through their stories and am grateful for the opportunity to have shared that time with them.