Sunday, June 19, 2011
Bosnia's Killing Fields
Kamal Pejmahovic, at first glance, looks intense, a loner, angry, even. A tall, handsome, sturdy man of about 40, Kamal works for the Islamic Center in Sarajevo as a handy man, responsible for everything between required repairs to cleaning and general maintenance; he is very good at what he does, a dependable man to have around. I was told he suffered atrocities under the Serbs and lost a lot of family. This was an opportunity for me to know and understand the pain of these victims, so I requested, and Kamal agreed to talk to me on June 13. Here, then, is Kamal’s tragic past, as translated to me.
I am one of 12 children, the youngest. Growing up, my family practiced a very strict tier system; the older sibling to you got the same respect accorded to a parent, no question asked. So Hassan, the eldest, was obeyed and respected blindly, as were others older to me.
Under Marshal Tito, childhood was carefree, spent raising sheep, playing and frolicking in the beautiful countryside. Each sibling had a few animals that (s)he was responsible for. The family unit was generally happy, practicing Sunni Muslims. I experienced little or no trouble with Serbs or Croats, except for minor discrimination at school. Life was generally good.
At age 21, I worked as a maintenance mechanic in Serbia. Increasing aggression of Serbia, aided by Bosnian Serbs, followed Bosnian independence in 1992. When the Bosnian war with Serbia began in earnest, Hassan decided that I would stay away from it, as all rest of men in my family were already serving actively in the Bosnian Army. I married and ended up living in Tuzla, constantly fretting about my siblings but was ordered by Hassan to stay away from the front lines.
When shelling from the Serbs got too intense and excessively close for comfort, Hassan’s family and other siblings escaped into the jungle where they lived for almost a year, foraging for food; coming to join me Tuzla was not possible. Hassan knew the terrain very well, so he used to go scouting surrounding villages in search of food and other survival musts. It was during one such trip that the Serbs caught, tortured and executed him; his body was dumped with thousand others into mass graves. The Serbs, fearing international penalties for their criminality, tried scattering remains of mass graves all over Bosnia. But DNA techniques prevailed and thousands of victims have been identified this way with 99.95% certainty the remains are of the person in question.
Ahmed, closest to me due to our minimal age difference, simply vanished one fine day. His remains were matched using DNA technique most recently. Both Hassan and Ahmed are laid to rest next to each other at the massacre memorial in Potocari. (Kamal had bitterly wept during our yesterdays visit with him there).
My siblings and other families fled to the ‘safe havens’ set up by the UN and NATO at a massive abandoned vehicle battery factory at Potocari. Urged and arm-twisted by the UN and NATO, who assured the refugees and us Muslims total safety, the Bosnians Army handed in their arms. According to numerous witnesses, the Serbs were seen chortling with the Dutch UN battalion, who were supposed to be protecting our mainly Muslim refugees.
The UN contingent closed the ‘protected’ camp to additional refugees after 6,000 but there were at least 40,000 Muslims between Serb front line and the ‘camp’ that offered refuge. The Serbs targeted these; all men over 12 were separated from the women and eventually executed and buried in mass graves. I lost 40 members out of 46 from my extended village clan. Many of our women were raped. All these atrocities were committed under the watch of UN / NATO forces.
When I eventually returned to Srebrenica, I came back to a broken community. The EU and US offered opportunities for a better, safer life in the West but I preferred staying back to care for my aged and emotionally devastated parents. There was also at this time, a lot of garbage being printed by the Salafits and Wahabees about Shia Islam that intrigued me. Research proved otherwise, so I happily became a Shia Muslim and now live very close to the Islamic Center in Sarajevo with my wife, 2 children and aged parents.
I put the blame of the Bosnian Muslims genocide squarely on the shoulders the international community, especially the UN. I believe the UN failed the Bosnian Muslims miserably, especially the Dutch contingent that was, at best, tacit bedfellows with the murdering Serbs.
As translated to me on the morning of June 13, 2011 at Sarajevo, Bosnia.
There is, at Potocari, a nice war memorial for those felled by Serb atrocities, partly, ironically, funded by the Dutch Government, a haunting testimony, perhaps, of (some) guilt?