In the 20th century, in the heart of Europe, one of the greatest genocides in human history happened.
Srebrenica stands as a symbol of suffering of Bosnian population. The pain was caused by Serb-Chetnik's armed forces in the UN's protected zone, under the very eye of UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force), and the Dutch battallion — to be precise.
It was July 11, 1995, when Serb-Chetnik's armed forces in the area captured the Muslim city of Srebrenica, rounded up the residents, and massacred not less than 8,000 of its civilian, unarmed Muslim population.
Years after the genocide, the bodies of the missing and killed persons have still been searched for in the mass graves and no one has been punished for the crimes.
What is more, the world gets misinformed about Bosnian people, who are claimed to have killed Serbs. Nothing is farther from the truth, and nothing of that sort has ever been proven.
On the other hand, there is massive evidence proving the genocide that Serbs committed against Bosnian Muslims. The most apparent are the mass graves from which skeletal remains are being exhumated daily.
This story is a personal testimony of a man who dug up the bodies of his compatriots from over a hundred mass graves and exhumated about 12,000 (twelve thousand) parts of the bodies of the killed Bosniaks. His name is Murat Hurtic. He is a member of the expert team of the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Not Just Body Parts
Hurtic was captured in a camp in Doboj, along with his four brothers and over 300 of Bosniacs. After he got out of the camp, he wanted to help his brothers and the rest of the people in the camp to get free.
In 1996, Mr. Amor Masovic suggested that Muric become part of the team that looked for the missing persons. Twelve years after that, Hurtic says,
I do not regret accepting this hard work. I pray for forgiveness for all the victims for every fear, every drop of sweat, and every sleepless night. It is very hard to describe what it is like to look for the corpses. Most of the graves are secondary ones, and to collect one skeleton we often have to search in five different mass graves. For example, one year we find the skull and the other year we find some other part of the same body. At the end, DNA tests take very long time to make sure that every bone matches the body of the killed person. I cannot look in the eyes of a mother who lost five sons and tell her that her missing son's skeleton was found without a hand bone.
After hundreads of mass graves have been uncovered, the criminals are still free.
Besides the unspeakable stench of corpses and painful scenes of bodies in decomposition and bones mixed with soil and rocks (with each bone to be identified), the experts still have to cope with the provocations of the local Serbs who interrupt their work all the time.
The group of enthusiastic people who cope with this work, exhausting both physically and mentally, daily face Serb police patrols, which ask them for identification papers, provoke them, and disturb their work.
There are also some other difficulties in this line of work. Hurtic says,
There are numerous mine fields that we had to skirt, numerous venomous snakes we had to kill while we were looking for the locations of the mass graves.
All I can say is that God is with us, he protects us. Still, after hundreds of mass graves been found, there is no criminal accounted for the death of thousands of Bosniaks.
The court process is really slow. We will never be able to find all the bodies as Drina River took many victims; also, a great number of people were burned and many corpses are in the Zvornik's Lake.
He gave us detailed descriptions for some of the mass graves in which massacred Bosnian people were buried. In of of them, they found 274 complete skeletons that had been put into bags and a few other skeletons scattered around. Based on that, they concluded that Chetniks had forced Bosniaks put the bodies of their neighbours, family members, and friends into the bags. Later, they killed them too, so there was no man left to tell what happened.
It is not a rare case to find the skeleton of an old men whose hands and legs were tied with a wire with visible signs of torture tortured and killed. Some victims had been burried alive, as there was a wide area around their heads which they made by trying to dig up the soil, suffocating and gasping for breath.
In many cases of exhumation, family members are very helpful, especially the mothers of the victims. Hurtic tells about a mother who lost her husband and five sons and who participated in the opening of two mass graves, trying to find the remains of her family members.
There was also another woman, Mrs. Suljic, who came every day during the mass grave being digged, trying to find her husband and her only son. She found his sweater, and later analysis of DNA identified her son's body. The day before the funeral, the mother of this murdered young man suffered a stroke. Anyway, her heart is calm now, as she knows where her son's grave is, and where she can come to ask God to rest his soul.
Unfortunately, many parents of the murdered are dying, which makes the identification of the bodies more difficult. As years pass, it will be even more difficult to identify the killed people and find their remains.
In the Crni Vrh mass grave, the remains of 728 Bosniaks were found. Chetniks had burried them and after a while they came and moved them to other places to put off the scent of their crimes. That mass grave is 4.5 meters deep, and 629 mortal remains were found there.
Hurtic attended a Muslim funeral for two babies who were found in the Zaklopaca mass grave. In this mass grave, the expert team found some feet, this being the result of Chetniks' digging the graves and moving the parts of bodies elsewhere. In one stream, there were bodies of 15 children.
We took the skeleton out from the water. It belonged to a 8- or 10-year-old girl who had curly, blond hair, which was dry when we took it out. Her clothes were dry as well, although we found it in the stream.
We found a skeleton of a nine-month pregnant woman, of a five-month-old baby, and of old people.
In many graves, people were burned, so these skeletons are impossible to put together.
One of the Serbs Hurtic came in contact with him. told me, "Here we captured 30 Muslims, of which we killed 20 and poured on them gasoline and set the corpses on fire, and then we tied the others with a wire and made them walk over the dead ones. One of them tried to escape but we caught him and killed him with an axe."
These are some of the details that Hurtic copes with every day from five o'clock in the morning till late in the night.
Honoring the Dead
On the Day of Mourning, July 11, 2008, there was a burial of 307 killed Bosniaks, civilians, which makes the number of identified and burried bodies over 3,214. They had a common funeral done in the spirit of Muslim religious beliefs in Memorial Center Potocari. The youngest one who was killed then was 15 years old and the oldest one was 84 years old.
A day before the funeral, there were over 2,500 students in the March of Peace, which moved all the way from Tuzla to Srebrenica (about 100 k.m.). The March of Peace reenacted how all the Bosniak mothers and children ran from the Chetniks in July 1995 came through the woods, over the hilly and tough route, wihout food or water all the way to Tuzla (which was a free teritory) and survived, in a bid to sympathize with all the victims.
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