After a slightly better nights sleep and breakfast we were off to an early start.
Driving into Sarajevo again we were shown sniper alley where the front line of the conflict had been. Evidence was still visible of bullet holes in walls and Resad Trbonja, our guide, was able to show us where his bunkers are still visible.
Franz Ferdinand assassination
We stopped at the corner where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which precipitated Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. This caused the Central Powers (including Germany and Austria-Hungary) and Serbia’s allies to declare war on each other, starting World War I.
Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
Next stop was the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. Built in 16th century, it is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans.
Next we visited The Jewish Museum is housed in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina and was built in 1581.
We had a small amount of time to ourselves to explore the old town and do some shopping before a 1 hr trip to Olovo for Lunch. Another traditional Bosnian meal at a restaurant on a hill side with views across the countryside.
Potočari Memorial Centre
After a further 2 hr drive we arrived at Potočari where the memorial to those killed during the Srebrenica genocide is. It was late in the day so we only had time to view the 30 min video about the events that happened in 1995 over a few days. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically massacred and buried in mass graves. The film was hard to watch and concluded with footage showing the shooting of several men that had been used as evidence during the trials. Stepping out of the building and the realization of being at Potočari, became overwhelming for me.
Survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide
We were driven to the Hotel and had just over an hour to ourselves before dinner at the hotel. During our evening meal two survivors of the Srebrenica genocide joined us. After dinner we were give the opportunity to watch part of a preview of a film that will be released later this year and to speak to the two survivors.
Hasan Hasanovic survived the Srebrenica genocide when he was still a teenager. He escaped as part of ‘The Column’ walking over 60 miles whilst being shot at and shelled. With no food, water or any provisions of any kind, he saw many die.
Nedžad Avdić was also a teenager at the time. Along with his family he too joined ‘The Column’ but the column broke and they became lost. They ended up giving themselves up to the Serb soldiers with the promise of being looked after. He was placed on a truck and taken to a field for execution.
We were tortured and dying for a drop of water. Before execution, we were forced to take off our clothes. One of soldiers tied our hands in the back. At that moment I, a 17-year-old boy, realized it was the end. I was trying to hide on the lorry behind the men wishing to live a few more seconds. The others did the same. Finally, I had to jump out. We were told to find a place and lined up, five by five. – Survivors story Nedžad Avdić, Remembering Srebrenica.
He was shot in both the stomach, arm and foot and fell into the pit. He lay there watching whilst lines and lines of others were shot and he prayed for death to come quickly. When the truck left he and one other man somehow managed to get them selves untied and out of the mass grave. They then spent days walking through woods to the safety of an area under Bosnian government control.
The stories were devastating and what struck me most was the pained expressions on their faces as they told their stories. It was this that magnified the impact tenfold for me, you could see them reliving the events and visualizing every detail of what had happened within their memory. It was a huge privilege to hear their accounts and it is this part of the trip that had the most visceral impact and something I feel now needs to be heard.
The conversation also came round to today and how they are both living with the impact of these events on their lives. The Governments have done absolutely nothing to support individuals who survived. Not even mental health support, Nedžad Avdić had to pay for his own psychiatry which was eventually given for free by his therapist.
The current Mayor of Srebrenica Mladen Grujicic is a Serbian nationalist who denies that the massacre was genocide yet Nedžad Avdić and Hasan Hasanovic along with others have moved back to Srebrenica to live. They both feel that this is the most powerful message that they can send, to reintegrate society without animosity or hatred.