Two Manchester University students, Iman Nauman and Zainab Ahmed, were lucky enough to be selected as delegates for the charity organisation ‘Remembering Srebrenica’ to explore the Bosnian Genocide and its impacts on the lives of those affected as the end of the war approaches its 20th anniversary.
‘Remembering Srebrenica’ is a British charity which focuses upon the events in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which was under the watch of the United Nations Protection Force during the Balkans Conflict. However in 1995 Serbian paramilitary units overran the town capturing its population. In the following days over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered and buried in mass graves, whilst many women were deported and forced into ethnic cleansing rape camps.
The two students went to the Bosnian region where the conflict began in 1993 to take part in cultural understanding lessons. They also met some survivors of the genocide, including mothers of Srebrenica whose husbands and sons were lost in the massacres. They described meeting the mothers as a very humbling moment. It was at that moment that the conflict became humanised.
Nuaman and Ahmed described the meetings as ‘truly eye-opening’ yet also incredibly emotional due to the nature of their visit. They emphasised the importance of such meetings with genocide survivors. There is only so much documentaries and news clips can show. The people of a country cannot be judged by media or by the actions of their governments. In order to understand the full impact hate crimes have upon normal citizens it is important to make an effort to educate ourselves properly.
The students were fortunate enough to also visit the facilities of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Sarajevo and Tuzla to learn about the difficult, painstaking but ultimately successful work that continues to be done in the identification of victims buried in mass graves. Here they were able to learn about and discuss the actions and aftermath of genocide, and the difficult process of reconciliation.
The programme aims to raise awareness of what it describes as “one of the worst atrocities committed on European soil since the Second World War”. They aim to teach lessons from the events in Bosnia between 1992-1995 and to draw upon this understanding to promote tolerance and community cohesion here within the UK.
During their visit with the organisation, Nauman and Ahmed learnt about the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Complex, a non-profit organisation that aims to build and maintain a complex in memory of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, founded in May 2001.
Former US President Bill Clinton officially opened the memorial to the public in 2003.
Almost twenty years after the massacre, bodies are still being recovered from mass grave sites around the country. Every year, thousands gather at the memorial centre on 11th July to bury what remains of their loved ones. In 2013, 409 newly identified bodies were interned at the annual memorial service.
Another feature of their learning experience was the Annual Peace March, or Mars Mira as it is more commonly known to the region. The Peace March is a commemorative walk in honour of the 15,000 men who formed ‘The Column’ and embarked upon a perilous 63-mile walk from Srebrenica to Tuzla, in an attempt to escape Serbian persecution.
‘Remembering Srebrenica’ describe the three-day walk, starting on 7th July each year, as open to participants from all over the world to “march in protest over the outstanding arrests and prosecution for those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide and the numerous war crimes committed during the conflict in Bosnia”.
The girls are helping to raise awareness of the Srebrenica genocide by promoting the Memorial Day, held on 11th July each year. A vigil will be held on Memorial Day in Manchester. They will also visit local high schools and colleges within the Manchester region to share the lessons they learnt from their trip whilst encouraging people to support the work of Remembering Srebrenica.
In speaking on the trip Zainab Ahmed said to the Mancunion: “This visit is something I will never forget, it most definitely has been an insight that has changed my perspective on tackling hate and the importance of promoting unity between all nations, what was significant is regardless of all the atrocities the victims have been through their desire for revenge is non existent.
“One of the mothers I met specifically said ‘’hating on the Serbs will not bring my son back, all I want is for the world to know what happened to us and that we are never forgotten’’. Seeing the strength these mothers hold is unbelievable. When they see young delegates come to visit they see their children in them, and gives them hope that we will never let their sacrifice be unrecognized.
“As delegates we feel the responsibility and duty to raise awareness and let everyone in the United Kingdom know what happened to ensure anything of the sort ever happens again.
“This experience has made me grow as a person, it really does teach you what is important in life and what is not, it humbles you and makes you appreciate all those things you take for granted.”