Life still tough for Muslims in Srebrenica
(25 Jun 2017) The muezzin’s call to prayer is loud and clear in this eastern Bosnian town.
More than two decades after the horrific massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica, life goes on. But the memories are never far from the surface.
The main Srebrenica mosque, which is situated just few hundred metres from the town’s Orthodox church, dominates the skyline and symbolises the return of its pre-war citizens, Bosnian Muslims.
Ramadan and other practices of Islam have returned to Srebrenica, but only in a minor way, and with smaller numbers of people.
Most of the Muslim survivors have left the country for good, and have no intention of coming back. The Bosnian refugee agency claims that only several hundred pre-war Muslims have returned to live in Srebrenica.
During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Bosnian Serb troops overran the small UN safe-haven of Srebrenica in mid July 1995, and killed an estimated 8000 Muslim boys and men who were trying to flee across the mountains. Some 15,000 others managed to break through the siege and escaped the massacre.
One of those who survived is Zejneba Cengic, 70, who lost her son in the tragedy of Srebrenica. Her husband was also killed, and both of their bodies were found scattered in mass graves around the town.
Even though suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes, Zejneba fasts throughout the month of Ramadan, and attends daily prayers at Srebrenica mosque. Her will to live in Srebrenica is stronger than the fact she is completely alone. No close relatives of hers live in this town now.
Ever since the peace agreement was signed in Ohio in 1995, Bosnian Serbs have been in control of the town, and Muslim refugees have feared returning to their pre-war homes. Only in recent years, with assistance from the international community and local leaders, have Muslims been returning to live in Srebrenica. Today it’s a safe place for Muslims, but the problem is that not many of them want to come back.
Cengic says that although no one from the local Serb authority prohibits Islamic practices in Srebrenica, life is still very hard.
Local imam, Damir Pestalic is one of the most prominent fighters for the return of Muslims to Srebrenica, but even he admits that wounds of the war have not healed yet.
“Ramadan can not be the same like it was before,” Pestalic says.
Pestalic praises the bravery and strength of those who dared to return and continue with their lives, practically at the very scene of the crime, often described as Europe’s worst massacre since World War Two. Several Bosnian Serb commanders who led the operations of Srebrenica in July 1995 have been convicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity by The Hague War Crimes Tribunal.
Every year, hundreds of victims’ bodies are excavated from mass graves, and then buried in the mass cemetery in Potocari, near by Srebrenica.
Around six thousand Muslims have been already buried there, but the DNA identification and new excavations still need to confirm the names of two thousand more.
In the whole of the Drina region of eastern Bosnia, an estimated fifteen to twenty thousand Bosnian Muslims have returned, starting their lives all over again.
Almost all of the mosques have been rebuilt, many newly erected, and the month of Ramadan is an opportunity when they all meet and enjoy the celebration of the holy month.
This year, in Konjevic Polje, just outside of Srebrenica, around 7000 Muslims from Drina region have gathered for a mass iftar, a festivity organized to unite the Muslim returnees wishing to revive their lives in this part of country where the bloodshed of the Bosnian war was the worst.
Many feel that poor economic situation is the main reason why not many have decided to return.
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