Remembering Bloody May 1992 in Bratunac

A Bosniak woman prays above the coffin of a relative killed at the beginning of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in the eastern town of Bratunac, May 12, 2012.  (Photo : PRESSTV.COM)
A Bosniak woman prays above the coffin of a relative killed at the beginning of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in the eastern town of Bratunac, May 12, 2012.  34 victims were buried that time. (Photo : PRESSTV.COM)

 

This article appeared on BCS version of DW ( Deutsche Welle ) 11.05.2014

By Marinko Sekulić

In mid-April 92 a JNA-corps  from Novi Sad arrived in Bratunac. Together with them arrived other armed units from Serbia. At the end of April the disarming of the Muslim population began “We had to hand over all licensed firearms in turn for guarantees that we would be protected by them apparently so that it wouldn´t come to any excesses” says Sakib Ahmetović who worked at the factory Kaolin in Bratunac and is now the president of the Association of Former Concentration Camp Inmates from Bratunac. “After they had disarmed us everything was surrounded and the shooting started. Anyone who tried to escape was killed. They herded us like cattle into the football stadium which was used as a gathering center from which they picked out those men that were to be executed”

Around 3000 Bosniaks were detained on the stadium where they were forced to hand over their identification cards, money and anything else they had of any value. The men who were separated in the stadium were then taken away to a gymnasium hall of the primary school “Vuk Karadžić” and imprisoned there. Ahmetović remembers that there was about 700 of them there and that the first night nine people suffocated;  “because there was so many of us in one room that we couldn´t breathe. There simply was not enough air. “A Serb soldier came in the room and shot out one of the windows in order to get more air in the room only for one of the boys in the room who was good friends with the soldier to be taken out and killed.  The killings took place in the adjacent building, called; “The Hangar.”  Which had before served as a workshop for practical training of students. Whoever went to load the dead never came back”

“Someone has to speak about what happened”

On DW´s question about how many people were killed altogether Ahmetović said around 200. “Only when they find all the mass graves and all the bodies will we know the full extent of the crime and the number of those killed”

When asked which moment had etched itself deepest into his memory Sakib Ahmetović had this to say:”I’ll always remember that I was brought here by a friend of mine, a Serb. He left me there and kept me there. Twice I met him in the hallway when going to the bathroom and asked him: What did he do to me?” And he replied; take care of yourself, you will go to the exchange. “When we went to the exchange he was at the exit, he stood up and greeted me with tears. I moved forward and then something hit me from behind and I fell and hit my head on the stairs on the other side” Ahmetović said showing the scar from that blow. I turned around thinking that he had hit me, but I saw that it was another soldier that was with him. “He kicked me, hit me with the rifle butt, he grabbed me by the collar and dragged me to the corner of the building where the killings took place. I don´t know where I found the strength to break away from him and jump in the back of the truck as he was dragging me alongside. There were already people on the truck who were being taken to the exchange. It was dark, the soldier started shouting that they throw me out of the truck or he´ll kill everybody on the truck. I laid down, and those on the truck did not see who jumped in. The soldier was on his way to stop the truck from going to the exchange and said that if I didn´t get out he would kill everyone when he returned. I don´t know how long the whole thing lasted but I had already decided to surrender when I heard the voice of that killer, he was saying: “Where is that one?” I heard someone say ; “they took him away” and that´s when he stopped looking for me. I went along to the exchange and that´s how I managed to stay alive.

After I returned to Bratunac after the war, I found out that I was declared dead, I had been declared that by my friend, most likely he was the once tasked with killing me so he had to do something to avoid suspicion. I meet that man now days too; we have had a couple of conversations but three years after my testimony in front of a court of law we don´t have any more contact and we are no longer friends.

Ahmetović returned to Bratunac in 2001 where he has lived since then because as he says; “someone has to talk about what happened. We can´t forget and those responsible have to be held accountable” Since my return there is a rather thick file on me at the local police station, but none of it is my fault. Someone has tried to kill me twice, unsuccessfully. They once prepared a mine for me in order to kill me but I survived. God won´t allow it to happen, I have to bear witness and the truth has to come to light”

Killed in the same school they graduated in

In gymnasium hall of the primary school which is now days called Branko Radičević but during the killings called Vuk Karadžić paying respect to the dead is Tima Hasanović. Thru her tears she found the strength to tell us:

I walked into this room for the first time last year. Believe me, I could hardly breathe. Here they killed my two sons and my husband. One was 18, the second 20, and her husband was 42 years old. All three of them were taken together from the house, which is located barely a kilometer away. From my window I could see this room, where they were killed. My children finished elementary school in this building.

For ten years I came here to their PTA meetings. Where are their teachers now? So that they can look me and rest of the mothers in the eyes and we can ask them how come they allowed their school to turn into a slaughterhouse? A place where innocent kids and people were killed? To this day our children attend school here, and to this day they are not allowed in their own language. Why can´t one language, the Bosnian language be shared by Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. This is Bosnia?!

A previously unknown detention centar for women

Bratunac is a town of mass graves, says Hiba Ramić a retunee to Bratunac. “In the municipality of Bratunac 73 mass graves have been found so far.” Indivdual graves, mass graves, primary graves and secondary mass graves in which those killed in Bratunac area were dumped. Some were killed during the Srebrenica genocide, others brought here from Milići, Vlasenica, even Višegrad and Foča. We still don´t have the exact figures of those killed and exhumed from those mass graves.”

Sakib Ahmetović tells us of yet another interesting detail, something about which has up to today little or nothing has been known. That is the existence of a camp for women in Bratunac during the war. He says that women were held for much longer in that camp then in the gymnasium hall. Women, some of them with children were locked up in a building close to the local police station. Those women carried messages to Srebrenica during the war. Their children would stay in Bratunac while their mother would carry a message to Srebrenica knowing full well that if she did not return to Bratunac her children would be killed. One girl, who was five six years old at the time remember that they told her in Bratunac; “If your mom does not return were are going to roast you on a spit grill”

When asked how many women were detained there and why this was previously unknown, Ahmetović said that he believed that 10 to 12 women were detained there. “We still don´t know everything, because they don´t even wish to talk about it, let alone testify about it. They are so afraid that they don´t even come here for the commemoration. I know one woman personally, I begged her to testify but she told me that she was afraid for her child, she even told me the name of the man that threatened her not to tell anything or something will happen to her child.”

“Immediately after our return to Bratunac we started looking for those missing” says Refik Begić, the former president of the Bratunac Assembly and one of the survivors of the camps. “In the existing files, which we mention frequently there are 603 missing persons. A small number of those have been found. Sadly we are still looking for a large number of victims of May 1992. Every year we remember that May and the horrible aggression that we were subjected too. Sadly the large number of discovered mass graves also testifies to that as well as those that have yet to be discovered. A lot of people were simply thrown into the Drina River and their bodies were found in Šapac, Sremska Mitrovica and even Belgrade. That´s why we throw roses in the river each year. We hope and expect justice to be done, and we will insist on it year after year and we will never stop. Of course we have to look to the future, but we will only look to the future if there is justice.”

Refik Begić confirmed the existence of 73 graves as well as the fact that the full figure of the casualties’ from this area is not known. “Sadly that is the case, but there are plenty of cases where entire families have disappeared, killed were they were caught, burned to death in houses without anyone to report it. Your neighbour can´t report that you are missing only a close relative and we are witnesses to the fact that in the things that happened in many cases all traces were lost. Despite everything I think that there is life in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Bratunac. The level of tolerance is considerably higher now than it was previously, I think that there will be a lot more understanding for everything that happened, coming to terms with the past is moving slowly but it´s moving. I am convinced that Serbian people have that seed in them, as it´s so popular to say these days, in fighting against fascism. However Serbs need to come to terms that in 1992, a large portion acted like fascists. The sooner that happens, and the sooner there is a catharsis the sooner we can focus on the future and progress will be faster”

Commemoration of the war crimes committed in Bratunac under the banner: Days of Genocide on Bosniaks in Bratunac Municipality this year started 3d of May. Along with marking the “Day of Concentration Camp Inmates” visits were made to the mass graves in Glogova, Suha and Redžića as well as visit to the gymnasium hall of primary school Branko Radičević, the place of the camp in 1992 as well as a viewing of the documentary “Imami šehidi”. On the border crossing with Serbia on Ljubovijski Bridge, 603 roses were thrown in to The Drina River. Each rose symbolizing a murdered Bosniak civilian in Bratunac.

On Monday 12th May 2014 in the memorial center and cemetery Veljaci the eight mass funeral service will be held for six identified murdered Bosniak civilians. In the memorial centre in Veljaci bodies of 267 identified Bosniaks killed in Bratunac 1992 have been buried. The search goes on for remaining 300 bodies. One should not forget that during the Srebrenica genocide in 1995 some 2000 of those killed were originally from Bratunac who due to the pogroms taking place found refuge in Srebrenica. Days of Genocide Bratunac 2014 will close 16th May.

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