- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
Suddenly, and in unison, they bowed their heads, lifted their hands, and began to pray. It was a beautiful and solemn-sounding prayer, but one that I could not understand.
Coming to the annual funeral at Srebrenica, I assumed that I would be immersed in a ritual and a culture.
Instead, I became acutely aware of my position as an outsider. This was not a feeling that could be cured by putting down the camera, wearing a headscarf, and imitating the actions of the woman next to me. To me, that would have been disingenuous. Her kneeling would have been full of meaning; mine would have been an empty gesture.
So instead I found myself along the fence, camera in hand. Rather than being a participant, I became a witness.
I saw the bowed heads, lifted hands, and murmuring lips. I saw the comforting of relatives and the wiping away of tears. And in so many moments, on so many faces, I saw resilience.
During the part of the ceremony that was held in English, we were asked to always remember the tragedy that occurred fourteen years ago, on that day, in that place. And then we prayed:
May grievance become hope;
May revenge become justice;
May mothers’ tears become prayers
That Srebrenica never happen again,
To no one nowhere.
As the 534 names were read off, and the seemingly endless stream of coffins were carried by loved ones to their final resting places, the crowd started to disperse. But I was compelled to remain there to pay my respects as each of the coffins passed by. For in each coffin was a person whose life was cut tragically short. And while I could not join in the ritual mourning, on that day I could try to comprehend the injustice of their deaths, and in turn relay that knowledge through words and photographs to the wider world.
Because ultimately, understanding is the first step to the hope and justice we seek.
Aishlinn O'Connor is an undergraduate student at Duke University in North Carolina studying political science, journalism, and documentary photography. This summer she is an intern at BIRN's Sarajevo office.
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