Ikan Behudin Bajramović and Mohamed Bahaaeldin El-Hebeishy were both born in the same year. The difference is that I am writing this piece today while Ikan never got to celebrate his 19th birthday. He was killed sixteen years ago in what history will agonisingly remember as the Srebrenica Genocide.
On Tuesday 11 July 1995, the Serbian forces represented by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) stormed the Muslim town of Srebrenica and wasted no time separating adult men and teenage boys from women and children, before herding off all the males into four huge factories located in the near-by village of Potočari. Once the factories doors were slammed shut, the killing started.
Those who were lucky enough to flee the Serbs’ attack took off in a 15,000-strong column bound north to Tuzla. They attempted a perilous journey through the mountainous Balkan woods in a bid to save their lives, but coping with thirst, hunger, and the inhospitable terrain was not the most dreadful factor in their ordeal; the refugees were frequently bombed, shelled, and sniped at as the Serb forces went on with their ethnic cleansing campaign. Between the factories of Potočari and the shelling that targeted the fleeing refugees, more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were massacred.
Whether Ikan was killed in the factories or along the trail to safety is hard to tell. All the victims’ corpses were carried by bulldozers and literally shovelled into unmarked mass graves. Adding insult to injury, not all those graves have been found. New ones keep being discovered every year. This year was no different. On 11 July a proper burial was given to 613 recently exhumed victims one of whom was Ikan.
Marking the Srebrenica Genocide’s 16th anniversary was not restricted to burial and commemoration ceremonies, it was also preceded by a three-day trek known as the Peace March, or rather Marš Mira as it is more widely known.
Srebrenica’s Peace March is a 110-kilometer trek that follows, in reverse, the same trail the refugees hazarded in 1995. It is a mountainous route that zigzags through Bosnia and Herzegovina’s countryside between Nezuk and Potočari. The tiny village of Nezuk was the refugees’ final destination as they fled to safety, while Potočari was their starting point. It is where most of the killing occurred, and where today’s Memorial Centre is located.
More than 6,000 peace activists and marchers participated in this year Peace March, the seventh since the first Marš Mira of 2005. Though the majority of the participants are from Bosnia and Herzegovina, some came from other parts of the Balkans, further afield in the European continent and even beyond. Egypt was represented by three individuals: Shereef Zaghlooul, Hassan Sharawy,and myself. “It is a unique opportunity to pay respect to those who died during the massacre, those who lost their lives for no specific reason other than belonging to a certain group, ethnicity, or believing in a certain faith,” says Shereef.
The march through the woods is certainly no walk in the park, and if you are not wearing proper shoes it becomes even more difficult. Nonetheless that didn’t stop 59-year old Ibrahim Mumić from embarking on it barefoot for the fifth time in a row. “I was one of the villagers who received the surviving refugees in Nezuk sixteen years ago. They were thirsty, hungry, in tatters, and barefoot,” he commented.
But some participants had only just been born when the ordeal occurred. “I am here because I want to pay tribute to our heroes,” says 18-year old Allen Alic, orphaned during the war at the age of three.
This year’s Peace March coincides with the recent arrest of the former Serbian military commander Ratko Mladić, the Chief of Staff of the Army of the Republika Srpska at the time, Mladić is largely responsible for both the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica Genocide. In 1995, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicated him for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. An arrest warrant was issued against him in July 1996 before he was finally arrested on 26 May. He was extradited five days later to Hague to face trial.
Mladić had reined havoc on Bosnia and Herzegovina committing grim atrocities and causing heartbreaking tragedies. “In Srebrenica there is not a single family who didn’t suffer a loss, be it a son, a brother or perhaps a father” said one Srebrenica inhabitant Sadik Emir who lost his father in the dreadful genocide.