Twenty-six years after they were brutally murdered, 16 men, two teenage boys, and a woman are laid to rest at Potocari memorial in Srebrenica, joining more than 6,600 other genocide victims already reburied there.
Thousands of people in Bosnia have gathered to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica massacres, Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since World War II, and bury 19 newly identified victims.
The mass execution of more than 8,300 Bosnian Muslims, most of whom men and boys, was commemorated in a series of events on Sunday, followed by the reburial of victims whose remains were found in mass graves and recently identified through DNA analysis.
Twenty-six years after they were brutally murdered, 16 men, two teenage boys, and a woman were laid to rest at Potocari memorial in Srebrenica, joining more than 6,600 other genocide victims already reburied there.
Rizvanovic lost 20 relatives in mass slaughter
“As soon as I got up and had coffee, I came to visit the graves of my husband and his brother, to say a prayer,” said Kadefa Rizvanovic, who lost 20 male relatives in the slaughter and still hasn’t found the remains of all of them.
“My paternal and maternal uncles are also buried here. I said a prayer for them and for all the victims of Srebrenica,” she added.
Rahima Halimovic came to Srebrenica to bury her nephew, Esnaf, who was 22 when he was killed in the massacre. His brother and uncle were also killed.
“It is difficult, this is very difficult,” she said through tears, kneeling next to her nephew’s coffin.
“When Srebrenica fell, he (her nephew) tried to flee through the forest with his brother and my husband. They never came back.”
Azmir Osmanovic, who was only 16 when he was killed, was the youngest victim to be buried this year.
Husein Kurbasic, the oldest, was 63.
Other victims who were buried included: Vejsil Hamzabegovic, Muhidin Mehmedovic, Ramiz Selimovic, Esnaf Halilovic, Muamer Mujic, Mehmed Beganovic, Hajro Aljic, Jusuf Aljic, Zajim Hasanovic, Asim Nukic, Nezir Dautovic, Ibrahim Avdagic, Jusuf Halilovic, Salih Dzananovic, Meho Karahodzic, Fikret Kiveric and Zilha Delic.
After the funerals, the number of burials at the cemetery rose to 6,671.
Still searching for victims
“I will bury only the scull of my brother but even it is not whole,” Osmanovic’s brother Azir told reporters.
Osmanovic’s scull was found in 2018 and identified a few months ago.
“I decided to bury him this year to have at least a place to pray for him. I don’t think anything else could be found after all these years,” Azir said.
Most of the genocide victims were shot dead in groups of hundreds at different sites in the Srebrenica region.
“It’s getting more difficult to find new mass graves,” the memorial centre spokeswoman Almasa Salihovic said.
“We are still searching for more than one thousand victims.”
Dodik slammed for ‘horrifying’ comments
On the eve of this year’s massacre anniversary, the Serb member of Bosnia’s joint presidency Milorad Dodik repeated his view that “there was no genocide.”
“There is information that coffins (with victims remains) are empty, that there are no remains in them, they just put a name,” he said quoted by the Bosnian Serb television RTRS.
Head of Bosnia’s institute for missing people Amor Masovic labelled Dodik’s comments “horrifying.”
“At the memorial centre, there are victims of whom only one bone was found and buried.”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the bloc’s enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi urged Balkan political leaders to face the past.
“There is no place in Europe for genocide denial, revisionism and glorification of war criminals,” they said in a joint statement on Saturday.
The Bosnian government earlier this week failed to proclaim July 11 the national mourning day since ethnic Serb ministers opposed the move.
Bosnia mass graves
Newly-identified victims are given a dignified burial each year on July 11, the anniversary of the day the killing began in 1995.
Most of the massacre victims were hunted down and summarily executed as they tried to flee into nearby forest after Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces, in the waning days of Bosnia’s 1992-95 fratricidal war.
The Srebrenica massacres were the bloody crescendo of the war which pitted the country’s three main ethnic factions – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – against each other after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
More than 100,000 people were killed in the conflict before a peace deal was brokered in 1995.
Genocide in UN ‘safe area’
The UN Security Council had declared Srebrenica a “safe area” in the spring of 1993.
But Serb troops, led by General Ratko Mladic overran the UN zone.
Mladic was later sentenced to life for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone.
Some 15,000 residents of Srebrenica fled to the surrounding mountains but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 in the forests.
Bodies of victims have been found in 570 different areas in the country. They were dumped into mass graves and later exhumed by UN investigators and used as evidence in war crimes trials of Serb leaders.
Turkey will continue to stand with Bosnians
In a video message at the memorial ceremony, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara will continue to stand with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bosnians.
Turkey will never let the genocide, which is “a black mark in the history of Europe and humanity,” be forgotten, he said.
“The wounds Srebrenica opened in our hearts are still bleeding although 26 years have passed,” Erdogan said.
Britain on Sunday said it remembers the victims of the genocide.
“Today, we pause to remember the victims and honour the survivors of the Srebrenica genocide,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“The United Kingdom continues to play a vital role in ending impunity for these horrific crimes as we have shown by agreeing to provide the prison cell so Radovan Karadzic can serve his life sentence for the genocide.”
Raab also urged political leaders in the region to “reject hate speech, to condemn any glorification of the perpetrators of genocide and war crimes, and to respect the verdicts of international and domestic courts.”