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Srebrenica Anniversary: Bosnian mom buries 2 sons 19 years after massacre | July 11, 2014

After 19 years, Hajrija Selimovic finally has a place to mourn her family.

Selimovic buried her two sons next to her husband’s white tombstone in a cemetery for the victims of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

The three were among the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed when Serb forces overran the eastern Bosnian town on July 11, 1995. Samir was 23 and Nermin 19 when they were shot by an execution squad.

The remains of Srebrenica victims are still being found in mass graves to this day and are being identified using DNA technology. Every July 11, more are buried at a memorial center near the town.

"They were victims of monstrous nationalism," Camil Durakovic, Srebrenica’s mayor, said.

Selimovic’s two sons were among the 175 newly identified victims laid to rest this year, joining 6,066 others including their father Hasan, who was found in 2001 but buried only last year.

"I didn’t want to bury him because they found only his head and a few little bones," Selimovic said. "I waited, thinking the rest will be found and then everything can be buried at once … but there was nothing else and we buried what we had."

So thousands of traumatized mothers and widows are faced with a dilemma — whether to either bury just a fragment, or wait until more bones are found.

This year, the families of about 500 identified victims have decided not to accept just two or three bones. Those will remain stored in a mortuary in the northern city of Tuzla until more remains are found — or until the families get tired of waiting.

Selimovic, who made a hard decision last year regarding her husband, said this year’s decision was easier. 

"Now I am burying two sons," she said. "They are complete. Just the younger one is missing a few fingers." (via AP)

Photos by Dado Ruvic/Reuters & Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images.

Sarajevo then and nowBosnia reopens once-destroyed “Vijecnica”

Sarajevo’s landmark 19th century city hall-turned-National Library re-opened on May 9, 2014 with its old glory fully restored, 22 years after it was destroyed by Serb shelling during the siege of the city along with its almost 2 million books and manuscripts. More than 10,000 people died during the 43-month siege of Sarajevo in which Bosnian Serbs took control of the hills surrounding the city, bombarding it with shells and killing civilians with snipers as they sought food and water.

Photos by Dado Ruvic/Reuters

A man jumps from the Old Bridge in Mostar on July 28, 2013. Diving competitions have been traditionally held here every year since the bridge was built 447 years ago. The 16th-century bridge was destroyed during the war in Bosnia between 1992-1995, rebuild and opened again in 2004.
[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

A man jumps from the Old Bridge in Mostar on July 28, 2013. Diving competitions have been traditionally held here every year since the bridge was built 447 years ago. The 16th-century bridge was destroyed during the war in Bosnia between 1992-1995, rebuild and opened again in 2004.

[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Baby among 409 buried on Srebrenica anniversary

"Hava Muhic stood Thursday above the smallest pit in the cemetery, near her husband’s grave. It was dug for her baby girl — who was born and died here 18 years ago on the day of the worst massacre Europe has seen since World War II.

Muhic’s baby is among the remains of 409 people recently identified after being found in mass graves, who were reburied at the Potocari Memorial Center on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. This year’s commemorations bring the total of identified victims to 6,066. Another 2,306 remain missing.

Muhic is burying the daughter she never had a chance to see or call by name.

A simple wooden marker above the little green coffin says: Newborn Muhic (father Hajrudin) 11.07.1995 — the single date marking both birth and death.

Muhic blames her child’s death on the frantic rush to seek safety among U.N. peacekeepers as Bosnian Serbs overran the town. A woman who helped her give birth in the U.N. compound told her the girl was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and that she was dead.

There is no way to know whether the chaos of the day had anything to do with the baby’s death. One thing’s certain, however: Muhic spent 18 years living with the pain of not knowing where her baby girl was buried.

Back then, Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout the country’s 1992-95 war. Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic broke into the enclave on July 11, 1995. That morning, some 30,000 Bosnian Muslims flocked to the U.N. military base in the town’s Potocari suburb seeking refuge.

Among them was Muhic, then 24 — and nine months pregnant with her second child. Labor pains took her breath away as she passed the gate of the U.N. base. One of the peacekeepers told her she could enter the base’s main building but said the others would have to stay outside in the courtyard.

Muhic recalled the moment after she learned her baby’s fate.

"Two men in uniform came … They took my baby and put it in a box. They asked me for my personal information and I gave it to them. They said they were taking the baby to bury it."

Meanwhile, Serb forces had also entered the U.N. compound unopposed by any of the hundreds of frightened U.N Dutch soldiers. They began separating men from women. Over the course of 5 days, they executed 8,372 men and boys.

A half hour after she delivered the baby, Hava Muhic was told to get up and leave the building. Still covered in blood, she climbed with other women into a truck that drove them to safety. She did not know where her 5 year-old son or husband were.

Years later, she discovered that her husband Hajrudin, his two brothers and her brother were among the thousands killed in the massacre, which the International Court of Justice later defined as genocide. Mladic and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic are both now standing trial in front of the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the Srebrenica genocide in Srebrenica and other war crimes.

Muhic’s son survived. Now 23, he lives with her in southern France.

Authorities spent years trying to find a mass grave that Dutch soldiers reported digging inside the base for Bosnian Muslims who died of natural causes during the carnage, according to Amor Masovic, one of the directors of Bosnia’s Missing Persons Institute.

Forensic experts searched several locations the soldiers pointed out, but could not find any skeletons.

"Eventually we obtained a photo the soldiers have taken of the open grave with the little body in it," Masovic said. "By the position of the light poles on the photo and some shades, we found the location last year. There were five other bodies in the grave besides the baby’s."

Srebrenica’s mayor Camil Durakovic believes the baby would have been alive today had Muhic received normal medical care.

"But it died because it was born under unbearable circumstances and therefore it is a victim of genocide," he said.

Hava had a name for her daughter but she never had the chance to give it to her. She has asked that it be engraved on the tiny white marble headstone that is to replace the wooden one.

"I will do all I can to have the name the mother wanted for her child engraved on the baby’s tombstone," said Durakovic. "That is the least we can do for the mother."

So soon, Hava is likely to have the comfort of visiting a grave where — instead of “Newborn” — the headstone reads: “Fatima” 

(Photos by Amel Emric/AP, Elvis Barukcic/AFP, Dado Ruvic/Reuters, Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA)

Turkey today

1. A woman is attacked by water cannon during protests in Kizilay Square in central Ankara, June 16, 2013. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

2. People rest on Bosphorus Bridge as they march from Anatolian side to European side to Taksim Square in Istanbul, early on June 16, 2013. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

3&4. Riot police use a water cannon to disperse anti-government protesters at Taksim square in central Istanbul June 16, 2013. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

5. A pretzel vendor walks in front of a line of Turkish police cordoning off Taksim Square, in Istanbul on June 16, 2013. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

6. A supporter wears a mask showing Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during a rally of ruling AK party in Istanbul June 16, 2013. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

7. Plain clothes policemen detain an anti-government protester at Taksim Square in central Istanbul June 16, 2013. (Stringer/Reuters)

8. Police detain a wounded protester on June 16, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images)

9. A combination photo shows a protester being sprayed by the police’s water cannon during a demonstration at Kizilay Square in central Ankara June 16, 2013. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

10. Police detain protesters on June 16, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images)

Bosnian Muslim women stand near graves before a mass funeral in the town of Vlasenica, in the Serbian part of Bosnia on April 20, 2013. The remains of some 11 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-1995 Bosnian war, were exhumed from mass graves near Vlasenica with more expected to be found.
[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Bosnian Muslim women stand near graves before a mass funeral in the town of Vlasenica, in the Serbian part of Bosnia on April 20, 2013. The remains of some 11 Bosnian Muslims, killed by Serb forces during the country’s 1992-1995 Bosnian war, were exhumed from mass graves near Vlasenica with more expected to be found.

[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

An illegal miner smokes a cigarette during a break from digging at coal mine in the village of Stranjani, near Zenica, December 11, 2012. There are about 20 illegal mines in the area, where Bosnians dig for coal with their bare hands and use makeshift tools, such as bathtubs, to transport the coal. One bag of their coal is sold for 3 euros ($4 dollars), which is popular with the locals as it is cheaper than the coal sold at the city mine.
[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

An illegal miner smokes a cigarette during a break from digging at coal mine in the village of Stranjani, near Zenica, December 11, 2012. There are about 20 illegal mines in the area, where Bosnians dig for coal with their bare hands and use makeshift tools, such as bathtubs, to transport the coal. One bag of their coal is sold for 3 euros ($4 dollars), which is popular with the locals as it is cheaper than the coal sold at the city mine.

[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

A woman releases a balloon into the air during the 20th anniversary of the closure of the Omarska detention camp in Omarska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, August 6, 2012. Hundreds of former inmates released balloons with names of missing persons into the air during a ceremony marking its closure, commemorating around 800 people who died in the camp which housed approximately 5,000 people during the 1992 Bosnian War.
[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

A woman releases a balloon into the air during the 20th anniversary of the closure of the Omarska detention camp in Omarska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, August 6, 2012. Hundreds of former inmates released balloons with names of missing persons into the air during a ceremony marking its closure, commemorating around 800 people who died in the camp which housed approximately 5,000 people during the 1992 Bosnian War.

[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Mejra Dzogaz prays near the graves of her two sons before the television broadcast of the court proceedings of former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic’s in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina May 17, 2012. Mejra’s husband, three sons and a grandson were killed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 by a Serbian army unit commanded by Mladic. The Bosnian Serb general made a throat-slitting gesture to a woman who lost her son, husband and brothers in the Srebenica massacre at the start of his trial on Wednesday for some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War Two.
[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Mejra Dzogaz prays near the graves of her two sons before the television broadcast of the court proceedings of former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic’s in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina May 17, 2012. Mejra’s husband, three sons and a grandson were killed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 by a Serbian army unit commanded by Mladic. The Bosnian Serb general made a throat-slitting gesture to a woman who lost her son, husband and brothers in the Srebenica massacre at the start of his trial on Wednesday for some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War Two.

[Credit : Dado Ruvic/Reuters]