by Virginia Siegel / Research by the Bosnia Oral History Project Committee
Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the start of the Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia & Herzegovina, which began July 11, 1995. Many of our fellow Kentuckians are survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide and many lost loved ones.
This week, the Bosnian American community of Bowling Green is hosting events to commemorate and remember Srebrenica, as well as many other sites of genocide and atrocity during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. Many in our Bowling Green community lived in besieged Srebrenica and survived the events of the genocide; many of their loved ones did not survive.
The Srebrenica Genocide of 1995
“When we saw that there was no hope for Srebrenica and its people — that the final moment had come, the terror could be felt in the air. It is a strange feeling to describe, there are no words for it, but you knew that this day is like no other and you knew that this day will stand among the rest of your days.” – Mehmed Alić, as shared with Senida Husić, 2015
As nations of the former Yugoslavia began their struggles for independence in the 1980s, following the death of Tito and the breakdown of communism in other countries in Europe, Serbia used military strength to expand its power in the Balkan region. Between 1992 and 1995, the village of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia served as a stronghold and refuge for Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) facing ethnic cleansing from Bosnian Serb and Serb forces.
Although it had been declared a “Safe Area” by the United Nations, on July 11th, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladić entered Srebrenica with the intent to kill the concentrated Bosniak population taking refuge there. Despite false promises to the UN peacekeepers assuring the safety of the inhabitants, over the course of just a few days, Mladić’s forces would torture, rape, and kill many of those who thought they were protected. Once the peacekeepers allowed Bosnian Serb forces into Srebrenica, Mladić ordered the separation of the women and small children from the men and boys. Both men and women were told they would be bused to Bosniak-controlled territory; but for the men, this was a lie. While the women and young children were bused out, men and boys were taken to the surrounding countryside and executed.
Around 8,000 men and boys were murdered and buried in mass graves. In an effort to conceal the scale of the atrocity, Bosnian Serb forces moved many of the mass graves to secondary and sometimes tertiary sites to hide the evidence. As a result, it has been difficult to identify victims, and the process remains ongoing.
You may encounter your neighbors wearing a white flower pin this week, and you might wonder about its symbolism:
The Srebrenica Flower
“I’m one of thousands [of] mothers, living here in Bowling Green… so many single mothers, so many missing husbands. Some mothers lost their kids at that time. And I always said, “if I’m – only me I will say, ‘Okay, this happened to me.’” But it didn’t happen just to me. It happened to thousands, thousands [of] people in Bosnia.” – Izeta Dzelil, 2016
This small crocheted flower is a sign of remembrance of the genocide that took place in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in July of 1995. A symbol worn as a pin by many, the crocheted flower was developed in Bosnia by a crocheting association, Gračaničko keranje (“Gračanica Crochet”), which exists to conserve Bosnia’s traditional crocheting techniques.
The eleven petals on this flower represent the day the genocide began, July 11th. The white petals represent innocence, while the green represents hope. In addition, the colors and shape also represent the burials of the victims. In Potočari, when the victims of the genocide are laid to rest, the casket is draped in green (the center of the flower). The white petals represent women mourning, dressed in white, surrounding the green center.
If you’d like to learn more about Bowling Green, Kentucky’s Bosnian American community, make sure you check out our upcoming exhibit at the Kentucky Museum, opening September 29, 2017: A Culture Carried: Bosnians in Bowling Green | Kulturno naslijeđe: Bosanci u Bowling Green-u. You can learn more by clicking the link above, or by visiting the Kentucky Museum’s website.