In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims who were meant to be under UN protection were killed in an act of systematic ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica. Remembering the genocide and serving the survivors is still important.
In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims who were meant to be under UN protection were killed in an act of systematic ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica. It was the largest mass killing in Europe since World War II, leaving thousands of survivors (mainly women and children) without family members, homes, and communities. Tens of thousands were forcibly deported and women were subjected to torture and rape as a weapon of war. The wounds of this systematic and planned genocide against Bosniaks have not yet healed and rising conflict around the world serves as a tragic reminder for why it is important to remember the Srebrenica Genocide.
This is why Žene za Žene International Association is proud to join survivors, activists, and people from around the country and the world who will be participating in the Bosnia March of Peace this week. The March is a three-day walk from Nezuk near Tuzla to Srebrenica (about 75 miles) to commemorate the victims of the 1995 genocide, show solidarity with the survivors, and remember the devastating consequences of the war.
War breaks the fabric of a society, taking away loved ones, networks of support, and confidence. I have come to believe that the women of Srebrenica, especially the widows, are the loneliest people in the world, but they are also among the most resilient. Even after losing all they had, they have had the courage and strength to come together, rebuild, mend their communities and see beyond ethnic allegiances to form sisterhoods. It’s not surprising then that women are often at the forefronts of organizing and leading the march in bringing their communities together.
It’s also important to remember that it is women who have been leaders in achieving some semblance of justice for the victims and survivors of the genocide. Dozens of women braved threats and dared to testify at the Hague. During the 20-year trial of war criminal, Ratko Mladic, many graduates of our program travelled to The Hague to testify against him and others behind the Srebrenica Genocide. They spoke truth to power and stood together to create a better Bosnia-Herzegovina. What we saw in Srebrenica, what continues to inspire us today, is the power of communal healing, the power of coming together, and the power of women to bring about peace and justice, even after experiencing the most horrendous and unimaginable atrocities.
It’s important that these women and their families are not only remembered in July, but are also supported in their everyday life in order to build a more humane society for all of us. When given the opportunity, Bosnian women in Srebrenica and elsewhere have the power to not only empower themselves but also to heal, unite, uplift our country, and create social cohesion and economic opportunities. The key to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s healing and growth is in the hands of the women of our country. In order to do so they must be equipped with vocational and business skills, entrepreneurship opportunities, and leadership skills. There is a lot of work to be done especially with younger generations of women to reconstruct their communities, even 23 years after the conflict.
As we join the March for the fifth year, I will be thinking about the potential of women to bring about a better day in our communities and country. This year, it will not be hard to find inspiration because we will be joined by the graduates of our program, many of whom are survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide themselves.
Among the participants this year are two widowed women, Nura and Refija, who lost their husbands and children in the genocide. Hopeless and without any support systems, they joined our program in 2005. Through the program, they began to heal and create a sisterhood. To fight the isolation and loneliness that felt crippling at times, Nura and Refija decided to live together and keep each other company. Even today, many years later, their bond is strong. They cook together, garden together, work together, and this week, march together. They’ve escaped poverty and spread hope to many others.
Our work in Srebrenica was monumental because it told the women who felt abandoned by the world that they were not alone: that someone cared about them and their needs. It’s important to continue to build on that solidarity and continue to invest in women’s empowerment in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is why we join the March every year to let Nura, Refija and women like them know that they are not alone or forgotten. We are here to honor them and their resilience.
Seida Saric serves as the Director of Žene za Žene International Association Sarajevo, an organization dedicated to women’s empowerment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is affiliated with Women for Women International.