feature 08 Jul 12

‘Of Four Households, One man Survived’

Sehida Abdurahmanovic recalls the fate of her extended family following the fall of Srebrenica, when the slaughter of men at the hands of the Bosnian Serb army began.

By Marija Tausan
BIRN Justice

Just one man survived from the four houses of my family in Potocari, Sehida Abdurahmanovic says.

Srebrenica, Photo by BIRN Justice

That grim fact illustrates the fate of many of those who lost sons, brothers, husbands and fathers in the mass slaughter in Srebrenica in 1995 that followed the town’s capture by the Bosnian Serb army, the VRS.

Her tragedy began to unfold at the start of the Bosnian war three years earlier, in the town in eastern Bosnia where she lived with her husband, Jakub, son and daughter, until 1992.

One night, she recalls, members of a notorious Serbian paramilitary force led by the late Serbian gangster and warlord Zeljko Raznatovic “Arkan” broke into their apartment.

They took away her husband and killed him in the police station. Fearing that they might return, she took her children from the town and then returned with her children to see what had happened to her husband.

“I don’t know how I made the decision to seek my husband but I managed to find his body and to take it out of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, MUP, and brought it back to the apartment,” she recalled.

“At least I managed to bury him. I really cannot remember all these details because it is still hard for me,” Abdurahmanovic adds.

What happened to her then in July 1995 would happen to thousands of other families from the Srebrenica area.

The Army of Republika Srpska, VRW, under General Ratko Mladic, launched the attack on Srebrenica on July 6.

Five days later they entered the town. Thousands of people, mostly women, children and the elderly, fled for safety to Potocari, near the base of the Dutch UNPROFOR battalion.

After Bosnian Serb forces took control of Potocari, they organized convoys of women, children and the elderly for the Bosnian government-held town of Tuzla.

However, the Bosnian Serb army and police first separated from the women and children all military-age men.

Srebrenica, Photo by BIRN Justice

Later they took these men to various places of mass executions. The first killings started that day.

“My brother was caught alive on the hill in Potocari, when, as they say, they [the Serbs] were ‘cleaning the terrain’.

“He was taken to [the nearby town of] Bratunac and killed there. I did not find his remains, and I’m not sure that I will ever find them,” Abdurahmanovic says.

At the same time that the buses and trucks transported the woman to Tuzla, a column of men, civilians and members of the 28th Division of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ARBiH, had the same goal.

Having evaded the Serb roundup, they were trying to break through to Tuzla through lonely paths in the woods.

Many surrender to the Serbs:

Some succeeded. «My son managed to get through the woods. I was lucky that my child managed to survive. Although he experienced great hardship and lives with the trauma, he is alive,» Sehida Abdurahmanovic says.

Many were not to fortunate. Exposed to gunfire, tired, hungry and thirsty, many of the men surrendered to the Bosnian Serb forces deployed on the roads, trusting in promises that they would not be harmed.

They were cruelly deceived. The first mass execution took place on July 13, in the early morning hours, at Dolina Cerska, where, according to the subsequent court verdicts, about 150 persons were killed.

On the same day, Bosnian Serb forces were holding between 1,000 and 2,000 persons in the meadow at Sandici, which lies on the road from Konjevic Polje to Bratunac.

One group of these prisoners was taken to a nearby warehouse in Kravica. About 1,000 persons were executed there on July 13 and 14. The facilities of the former farming cooperative are now abandoned but traces of shootings are still visible.

Seliha's nephew was among the victims of this mass execution. «My sister's son, born in 1979, has been identified and buried. He was found in a mass grave at Glogova. Those who were killed in a mass grave in Kravica were found there,» Abdurahmanovic says.

Mass executions then continued on July 14 in the village of Orahovac, a dozen kilometers from Zvornik, where the prisoners were kept in the school. They were then blindfolded and driven by tractors to the meadow and executed.

Killings carried out in batches:

In the evening of the same day, hundreds of prisoners were brought also from Bratunac to the school in the nearby village of Petkovci.

In the early morning hours of July 15, they were taken in groups to the meadow near a dam in Petkovci. More than 800 persons were killed there.

On July 14 prisoners were also brought to the school in Roncevici, near Kozluk, and taken to the banks of the river Drina the following day. Another 1,000 persons were killed there.

The mass liquidations ended on July 15 and 16 in area of the village of Pilica, near Zvornik.

About 1,000 prisoners, who were brought to school in Kula, were taken to the military compound at Branjevo on July 16 and executed,

In the House of Culture in Pilica, meanwhile, about 500 hundred prisoners were liquidated.

“My uncle and his child were killed at Branjevo,” Abdurahmanovic adds.

On the site of the former economy building, a village for about 2,000 refugee families has since been built. The building of the House of Culture lies deserted and in ruins.

At these various places, courts in The Hague, the ICTY, and Sarajevo have determined that a total of 6,000 to 8,000 Bosniak men were killed. Killings of small groups of men were recorded in this area until early August.

The Bosnian Serb leadership is on trial on charges of genocide and other crimes in The Hague and in Sarajevo.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has already sentenced a number of men for participation in the mass murders in Kravica and Branjevo.

These are former members of the Second Squad from Sekovici, the Training Centre on Jahorina, the Unit with the Special Brigade of the Police of Republika Srpska, as well as from the Tenth Reconnaissance Squad of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS Main Headquarters.

However, excluding the organizers and commanders, the perpetrators of the killings in Orahovac, Petkovci, Kozluk, Cerska Dolina, Nova Kasaba and other places have not yet been brought to justice.

Thousands of wives, sisters, children and other relatives of those killed in Srebrenica will gather again in Potocari on July 11.

Finding the remains of their loved ones is one of the most important things for the families.

“I do not know if I’ll ever find my brother. Until you find him, you think that he might be alive, although the families are aware that they are dead.

“When someone says that somebody has been identified, we say: ‘Lucky you’,” Abdurahmanovic concludes.

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Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

The Indictment Against Ratko Mladic

Indictments in 1995 and 2000, further amended in 2002 and 2010, charge the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army with genocide and other crimes.

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When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

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