Walking the Road of War and Death toward Peace and Life
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Jul 2012
A friend of mine in Sarajevo invited me to join the “Peace March Srebrenica 2012.” One of the main purposes of this event is to provide the participants with the similar experience that internal displaced persons in Bosnia experienced during the War in Bosnia in 1995. In this program, the participants are to walk from Tuzla to Srebrenica (approximately 120 km or 75 miles) for three days through woods in hills and mountains. During this period, they sleep in the tents set up in the terrains. It was reported that some 8,000 people participated in this program this year. The participants were varied: The young and the old, men and women. I saw a 77 year-old senior Bosnian walking in the rocky path in the woods during this program, while I also saw a man who had one leg, using sticks, walking the steep and rough road in the program. Although most of the participants were Bosnians, some of them were foreigners, including Americans, Germans, Australians and more. This program was organized by each city office throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina. I joined this program through the Ilidža City Office, Sarajevo Canton.
In the early part of July 1995 during the War in Bosnia, it was considered that the fall of Tuzla in the hands of the Bosnian Serb Army was a matter of time. Local Bosnian Muslims residents in that area decided to seek their refuge in Srebrenica, the-then UN Safe Haven, protected by the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). It is said that some 9,000 of Bosnian Muslims in the Tuzla region walked through the mountain road/path to reach Srebrenica. The local residents walked all the way family by family, or group by group. They walked during the night time to hide themselves from the Bosnian Serb soldiers.
Imagine: You take your family, including your spouse, small children and elderly parents, to walk in deep forest mountain paths during the summer night time. You carry drinking water and food with you for four days or so. Actually, it is impossible for you (and for your family) to carry all the necessary amount of drinking water and food for the next few days. It is summer; this means that one person needs at least 1.5 liter or far more of drinking water each day. How many family members do you have? And food, clothes and other necessary items? Scarcity of drinking water and food added a more difficulty to the escapees, let alone the distance of 120 km of the mountain roads. Survivors of this flight say that some small children and elderly people died during the exodus. Furthermore, if Bosnian Serb soldiers would discover you during this flight, they would immediately kill all of you.
What was waiting for those who managed to arrive in Srebrenica from the Tuzla area, then, in July 1995? Genocide. Srebrenica became full of internally displaced persons from the Tuzla area together with the local Bosnian Muslim residents of Srebrenica. As the (later) broadcasted video shows, Radovan Karadzić and Ratko Mladić negotiated with the Dutch Battalion (that was in charge of the UN Safe Haven Srebrenica) of the UN Protection Force. The UN Protection Force accepted Karadzić/Mladić’s request. Accordingly, those Bosnian Muslim internally displaced men seeking for their refuge in Srebrenica, aged from 18-60, were separated from their families and were handed over to the Bosnian Serb Army. These Bosnian Muslim men were all killed by the Bosnian Serb Army then in Srebrenica. It is estimated that some 8,000 of them were killed then.
They were killed in Potocari [pronounced “pot-chah-ree”], a small village town outskirts of Srebrenica. There is the main street in Potocari. Factory buildings are located on one side of the street, while a terrain is located on the other side. The broadcasted video shows that those Bosnian Muslim men were shot to be killed in that terrain (that is now a huge grave yard). But not all of them were killed like that. It is estimated that a substantial number of Bosnian Muslims were killed by torture in the factory buildings. The walls of some rooms in the factory buildings still indicate what happened there. You can see a huge amount of blood stains on those walls, even after 17 years of time. The amount of the blood stains 17 years ago overwhelms the contemporary visitors to the factory buildings. On one of the walls, the number “103,” written with blood, can be read. Perhaps, it means that 103 persons were tortured to be killed on a certain day then. No one knows that how many people were actually tortured to be killed. Handcuffs and leg cuffs are still attached on the walls. You can easily understand that some wires from the ceiling were used to hang persons. I heard that some of those people had been killed by being cut of their skins and cells, while others had been opened organs in the part of their stomach/abdomen. It is either impossible or extremely difficult for anyone today to examine the exact fact that actually happened there but the extraordinary amount of the dark blood stains imply something untold tragedies really happened there.
For more about the Srebrenica genocide, visit the following websites:
My Diary of the Peace March 2012:
Saturday, 7 July 2012:
The participants, including me, from the Ilidža area, Sarajevo Canton, gathered in front of the City Hall at 9:30 am. They got on the bus at 10:10 am to head for Nezuk [pronounced “nay-zook”], a village outskirt of Tuzla. There is a campsite in Nezuk, at which some 8,000 participants from all part of Bosnia-Hercegovina (and from some foreign countries) gathered. The participants stayed overnight in the Nezuk campsite. There some of them stayed in big tents while others stayed in small individual tents. Nezuk was the departure point of this Peace March program. The Bosnian Army vehicles provided the participants with logistics and security, in addition to vehicles from each regional city offices.
Sunday, 8 July 2012:
The participants were told to get up at 4:30 am. All tents were dissolved and everything else was packed by 6:00 am. Around 6:30 am, breakfast was provided; a big loaf of bread and some canned meant. It was probable that each group was provided different food according to their city offices or their participating groups or organizations. Then, we, the participants were told to wait. We waited and waited.
A few minutes before 9:00 am, the American Ambassador to Bosnia-Hercegovina arrived at the campsite and made a brief speech. This implies that the US Embassy to Bosnia-Hercegovina is sponsoring this program, although the US Embassy is probably not the only financial source for the program. Some participants told me that some Bosnians abroad also donated some money to this program.
At 9:10 am, all the participants began to walk. They went into the path of the forest nearby. In some areas, villagers along the road prepared some small stations to provide the participants with some beverages, such as mineral water, coffee and/or juice.
The sunshine was strong. It was very hot. The heat from the sunshine made the participants tired. Many participants took a short break every few kilometers/miles individually or group by group.
Around 15:00 (3.00 pm), our group arrived in village Liplje, today’s campsite for all the participants. More and more participants arrived after our group. At the campsite, the drinking water was provided by the Bosnian Army and Firefighters. Our daily necessary items were transported by our city office vehicles to the campsite.
In the evening many participants slept in their own tents, while others slept in empty buildings in the campsite. Many of them stayed up late to chat with their other participants.
Monday, 9 July 2012:
Around 4:30 am, the participants got up. After dissolving tents and taking breakfast, we, the participants, began to walk around 7:00 am. Like yesterday, some villagers along the road prepared beverage stations to provide the participants with water, coffee and some juice.
Unlike yesterday, our roads were steep. We crossed some hills and mountains. Like yesterday, we took a short break for every few kilometers/miles. The participants just walked and walked in forests after forests under the strong sunshine.
Signs of mass grave sites were seen all along the way; sometimes every 20 – 50 meters or so. Most of these mass graves were located near Bosnian Muslim villages. Needless to say, all the victims in the mass graves were killed during the War in Bosnia, 1992-1995. Each of these signs indicates the exact number of the victims, the date they were killed, and the date the site discovered. The numbers the victims of each mass grave were approximately 100 – 300 victims.
Bosnian Serbian policemen were watching the participants at some strategic points along the way.
Around 16:00 (3 pm), our group arrived at today’s camp site, Konjević Polje. At the entrance of the campsite, local young women provided the participants with beverages and some light food. Many other groups of the participants arrived after our group. Our group members walked rather fast.
Tuesday, 10 July 2012:
Like yesterday, the participants got up around 4:30 am and began to walk around 7:00 am.
The participants took a short break frequently probably because of the accumulation of their exhaustion for the last couple of days. Their “short” break tended be longer; sometimes more than one hour.
Mass grave sites were seen frequently along the way. I have no idea how many mass grave sites were located along the way (and/or in the whole Bosnia in total).
At some points, drinking water was provided by tank trucks or fire engines. Like previous days, some villagers along the way provided the participants with beverages.
The participants became less talkative. Many of them silently kept walking. Around 18:00 (6 pm), our group arrived in Potocari, Srebrenica. Although every one of us was tired, we were all right. This is Potocari, the center of the tragedy of the Srebrenica genocide. Although many of the participants stayed in their own tents, some of the participants visited their relatives’ or friends’ houses nearby.
Wednesday, 11 July 2012:
The annual memorial ceremony of Srebrenica was held at the site of the terrain – the mass grave site, across the factory buildings. It is estimated that some 100,000 people gathered at the ceremony. The mass grave site was packed with people so that it was almost impossible for anybody there to walk around the site. It was reported that some 1,340 buses came to Potocari on this day. If so, how many private vehicles came there on the day apart from the buses?
Many visitors to Potocari entered the factory buildings which might well be called today a “special museum” of the Srebrenica genocide. Almost nothing inside the factory buildings have changed as they were 17 years ago, July 1995. It seems to me that time has stopped inside the buildings since then.
The Peace March program is well organized and well prepared. All necessary things – water, food, emergency assistance, etc. — were provided to the participants. The Peace March today is a kind of tourism – very convenient for the participants. But, 17 years ago, local Bosnian Muslims from the Tuzla area walked all along to 120 km, without any assistance. Some of the participants of the Peace March program were survivors of the exodus from Tuzla then. They told us about the difficulties of their flight. As mentioned above, some people especially small children and physically weak adults died during the flight.
After their exodus from Egypt, what was waiting for Moses and his people was the new land. After their exodus from Tuzla, what was waiting for the local Bosnian Muslim residents was the genocide in Srebrenica.
War leaves both offenders and victims inerasable scars both physically and mentally. In this sense, both of offenders and victims are all victims. When will their scars be healed? Sadly, probably not healed for the rest of their lives. Even if the scars might be healed, there is no perspective for it, at least for now, even after 17 years of the tragedy.
After returning to Sarajevo from Srebrenica, I went to a small restaurant near the Sarajevo Airport. I did not know the name of that restaurant then. Later, I was told that the name of the restaurant was “Two Doves.”
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Jul 2012.
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