15 years after the Srebrenica massacre, a survivor buries his family

By Hasan Nuhanovic
Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fifteen years ago, during the Bosnian war, Hasan Nuhanovic was a translator for Dutch peacekeepers in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, a U.N.-protected "safe area." As Serb forces

led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the city, some 30,000 Muslim residents, including Nuhanovic's family, sought refuge at the nearby U.N. base in Potocari. On July 13, 1995,

after the peacekeepers negotiated with Mladic (with Nuhanovic translating), the Dutch commander ordered the refugees to leave. Despite Nuhanovic's pleas, his parents and brother were forced off the base. They would be massacred, along with thousands of others.

Last month I identified my brother by his tennis shoes.

In the fall they got in touch with me about my mother. They had found her, or what was left of her, in a creek in the village of Jarovlje, about a mile from Vlasenica, my home town. The Serbs who live there threw garbage on her for 14 years. She wasn't alone. They killed another six in the same place. Burned them. I hope they were burned only after they died.

They identified my father four years ago, 11 years after his execution. They found a little more than half his bones. His skull was smashed from behind. The doctor couldn't tell me whether that had happened after he died. They discovered him in a secondary mass grave, Cancari, at Kamenica. There are 13 mass grave sites there. A little before the Dayton accords, Serb soldiers had dug the bodies up with bulldozers from the primary grave at the Branjevo farm, near Pilica, piled them on trucks and taken them to Cancari, almost 25 miles away, to dump them and bury them again.

There were around 1,500 killed at Pilica. That's what they say at the Hague tribunal. I read the statement of one of the murderers who said: "I couldn't shoot anymore, my index finger was starting to get numb from so much killing. I was killing them for hours." Someone, he says, had promised them five marks for each Muslim they killed that day. And he says that they made the drivers of the buses that brought the Muslims there kill at least a few so that they wouldn't talk about it to anyone.

Oh yes, poor drivers. And poor Drazen Erdemovic, a Serb soldier who says he had to kill or he would have been killed. They all had to do it, you see, and only Mladic is guilty because, they say, he ordered it all. And when they catch Mladic, someday, he'll say, like a real Serb hero: "I am taking the responsibility for all Serbs and for the whole Serb nation. Only I am guilty; judge me and let everyone else go." And then all of us, we and the Serbs and the rest of them, we'll be satisfied and happy. We'll rip off our clothes and jump into bed together. We won't need the foreigners for anything anymore.

Last year they put up headstones for everyone, nice ones, white, all the same, lined up in rows. Two empty spaces by my father. He's been waiting three years for my mother and his son Muhamed to be laid next to him.

Then they told me about my mother. I was preparing to bury her next to my father this Sunday.

And then the other day they called me -- they said they had a DNA identification for my brother, but they weren't 100 percent sure. They said to come to Tuzla, and I went on June 18.

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