SATURDAY, JULY 11, 2015
The Des Moines Register
Today marks 20 years since the Srebrenica genocide. July 1995 saw more than 8,000 men and boys in and around the small mountain town of Srebrenica massacred. This crime, committed during the brutal Bosnian War, resulted in the largest single loss of human life on European soil since World War II.
People will rightfully gather in Des Moines this Sunday to remember, as they will in villages, towns and cities around the world, because we cannot afford to forget.
The United Nations had declared the besieged enclave of Srebrenica in the Drina Valley of northeastern Bosnia a “safe area” in 1993. On the eve of the massacre some 400 Dutch peacekeepers stood watch but quickly fell to paramilitary units of Bosnian Serbs and from Serbia’s regulars. One of the units from Serbia, the Scorpions, which had officially been part of the Serbian Interior Ministry until 1999, bolstered by several hundred Greek and Russian volunteers swept into the area and proceeded to commit the atrocities. The killing force was coordinated and directed by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić.
The Preliminary List of People Missing or Killed in Srebrenica compiled by the Bosnian Federal Commission of Missing Persons contains 8,373 names. The forcible transfer of between 25,000 and 30,000 Bosniak women, children and elderly accompanied the massacre.
In 2005, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, laid blame first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted and harbored them, but went on to say the U.N. had failed to respond adequately — the U.N. itself had made serious errors of judgment and the tragedy of Srebrenica would haunt the U.N.’s history forever.
“Our most important duty, even while addressing the crimes of the past, is to prevent such systematic slaughter from recurring anywhere in the present and future. The world must equip itself to act collectively against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The ‘responsibility to protect’ must be given tangible meaning, not just rhetorical support,” Annan said.
People will assemble this weekend to pay tribute to the fallen, but as important, to rededicate themselves to this responsibility.
On a personal note, the Bosnian War brought me a brother, Amir Busnov. Amir and his family escaped the war and settled in Des Moines. Our kids went to school together. He is a patriot having served our country in many roles in multiple conflicts. Amir has taught me many things over the years.
A few years ago as many were talking about how America’s latest war in Iraq was winding down, Amir and I met for one of our long world problem solving lunches. Having just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, Amir painted a bleak picture of that country’s future — one that sadly has become reality. Erasing ethnic tensions isn’t something that can be done with might alone, he said. Understanding, equality and opportunity have to be part of the mix. Most of all, the powerful cannot turn their backs on the downtrodden with a belief that time and economic support and/or sanctions alone will counterbalance evil.
Not being able to wait until our lunch after Ramadan, I asked Amir to reflect on the Srebrenica anniversary. Amir is incapable of looking back without contemplating the future — it is always that way with the wiser brother.
“Reconciliation will not be possible without Serbia confronting the demons of her past. In any successful peace building process truth must be sought regardless of how painful it may be,” Amir told me.
Amir, who pays close attention to the words and actions of others, goes on to say “insisting on rhetoric that hides behind ‘we are all equally guilty’ will only poison relationships in the region for generations to come. Truth is the cornerstone upon which a solid future can be built. No amount of force or money can be a substitute.”
I will stand with my Bosnian brother Amir and all who will rise across the globe this Sunday to remember those lost 20 years ago in the now peaceful mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Srebrenica genocide stands as a reminder to the world that when we act to protect others from genocide, we protect civilization itself.
Commemoration Sunday - Bosniak-American Association of Iowa
will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre
1-4 p.m. Sunday at the State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust St., Des Moines.
The event will feature a panel of genocide survivors and other speakers.
The event is free. More information can be found on the
Facebook page “Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary
of Srebrenica Genocide.”