Ratko Mladic in The
SAMIR AND RYAD HAD THE RIGHT TO LIVE
By Irena Antic
Equal in death the same as they had been equal in fear and agony before
in the heat of July 1995 in the death-fields spreading from Srebrenica and Bratunac to
Konjevic Polje, Nova Kasaba and Zvornik they looked at this world for the last time,
citizens of Podrinje, killed in the Srebrenica genocide, more than 600 of them, returned
this July 11, after 16 years, to Potocare, to the same spot where they met their death.
Together with 4,534 victims already buried in the Memorial Center they stand for another
600 evidence of the crime of genocide and the atrocity in which the army and the police of
Republika Srpska and volunteer troops from Serbia, under the command of the recently
arrested ICTY indictee, Ratko Mladic, killed some 10,000 Bosniaks on July 11-19, 1995.
Their bodily remnants were found in mass graves on several locations.
Many of them have been hidden for years under the Kamenica death valley, some 60
kilometers away from Srebrenica. Ten mass graves were detected in that valley. Those found
in these graves had been shot on July 16-17, 1995 at the Branjevo military farm and in the
school and cultural center of Polici and Kozluk, where they were initially interred. For
this crime ICTY condemned Drazen Erdemovic, who pleaded guilty. Franc Kos and others from
the 10th Diversionary Squad of the Republika Srpska Army, infamous formation killing in
one day only some 1,500 boys and men in Branjevo and Pilice, are now standing trial before
the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In November of the same year, to cover their crime, they
excavated their victims and transported them to Kamenica. That's why most corpses from
these graves have been destroyed. Not rarely have the bodily remnants of a same person
been detected in three, four or more graves. On the 16th anniversary of the genocide
victims tracked down in the mass graves in Glogovo and Zeleni Jadar, killed in the Kravice
hangar on July 13, were also properly buried. On that July 13 some 1,200 Bosniaks,
captured while trying to reach the free territory in Tuzla, were killed in one night only.
Some bodily remnants were found in the mass graves of Snagovo and Liplje. Those scattered
in five mass graves in Liplje were shot at the Petkovci dam. Waters swallowed many bodies
Along with mothers hugging tombstones as if hugging their sons for the
last time, the victims of Srebrenica were once again buried by their sons and daughters,
children at the time and now grown-ups raised fatherless, by wives widowed overnight, by
brothers and sisters sharing everything with them once, by friends, neighbors, relatives,
by known and unknown people for all over the world; by those who had already buried their
dearest and know the pain, those going over it again and again; by families still
searching for their dearest and by mothers still waiting to bury their sons, still hoping
their bones would be found in some newly detected mass grave.
All those mothers, sisters and daughters whose dearest disappeared in
the whirl of the Srebrenica hell have had since were sleepless nights and dawns they met
in tears, praying and hoping to learn soon about the fate of their dearest. The hope that
someone would be alive dwindled as months and days went by. Suffering after suffering was
in store for those who survived the golghota of Srebrenica. And all those years new hope
was born with every newly discovered mass grave. All their hopes and wishes were then
focused on meters-deep holes. Standing over them they could only guess with fear in their
hearts about the identities of corpses. Every mother facing these awful scenes could only
hope that a wristwatch, a boot, a wallet or a photo beside some scull, hand or leg
belonged to her son, that this could be one of hundreds of graves in which his bones have
been rotting all those years.They had given birth to healthy and beautiful babies, not
to a bone or a trunk. Unfortunately, most of them had to resign themselves to their fate -
just some little bones belonging to their children were lying under the tombstones in the
Potocari Memorial Center.
In the years after the Srebrenica genocide I've met hundreds of mothers
who had lost their sons with the fall of the enclave under UN protection, and heard as
many heartbreaking stories. I've noted down many of these stories and had them published.
But I could never make myself write the story of Sabaheta Fejzic and her parting with her
school-age son, three times snatched from her arms by Serb soldiers in Potocari and
finally taken away, or about Kada Hotic's thoughts about how unjust it was to survive her
son killed while trying to reach the free territory together with thousands of citizens of
Podrinje. I've talked to them many times and we've cried together. Their eyes were clouded
by the past and the pain, their faces were wrinkled by the years of searching and hoping.
I would always feel guilty of digging into their shattered lives and their hearts wrapped
into years-long suffering. I've tried to find an excuse for myself: people have to be told
their stories, their stories must not be consigned to oblivion.
When the news came that Mladic's wild hordes had crossed the last line
of defense and entered the town of Srebrenica and when exhausted and frightened citizens
directed themselves towards the UN base in Potocari, Sabaheta and her son Ryad went too.
Outside the main building they said goodbye to Ryad's father, Shaban, who went towards the
woods. On that day the Fejzic family hugged each other and cried together for the last
time. Sabaheta could not rid herself from the premonition that Serb soldiers would
separate her from her son and would not let him go with her to the free territory. They
spent two days and two nights in the open, together with others. Her worst fears became
true in the morning of July 13. Serb soldiers separated Ryad, about to turn 18 in ten
days, together with other men and boys, including 14-year-olds. Several times Sabaheta
managed to snatch away her child from this sad column of people. Once again, when struck
by terror she realized they would not let Ryad leave with her, she tried to protect
herself and her child by running into the masses. When they came close to buses, they went
through the same scene. Soldiers were tugging Ryad in one direction, she in another. She
cried, she begged them to let him go, she implored them to kill her on the spot but only
let him go. Ryad was crying, "Mom, do not let them take me!" But when her agony
culminated, when they began hitting her and pushing her aside while she was struggling for
her son, he said, "Mom, let me go." They took away Ryad and killed him three
days later. They left Sabaheta standing on the hot asphalt, blood pouring from her hands
and legs. They allowed her to live but killed everything inside her on that day.
"I haven't, I haven't managed to save my child. They took him away
from me. My neighbor Milisav Gavric was watching the scene. He was there. He wouldn't help
me to save my child. When they took him away, they threw me on a truck, like a sack,"
remembers Sabaheta the moment they separated her from her only child who meant the world
to her. She fainted and recalls nothing till they reached Kladanja. Ryad was found in the
mass grave in Kamenica.
That means that he was alive till July 16, when shot in Branjevo. Drazen
Erdemovic testimony about the shooting of captured Bosniaks in Branjevo and his saying
that he remembered a boy crying for his mother before the first shots were fired into
unfortunate people, makes me believe that the boy must have been Ryad. He was buried in
the Potocari Memorial Center in 2009. There is an empty place next to his tombstone.
Sabaheta hopes to bury her husband Shaban, whose bodily remnants have not been found yet,
next to their son.
"All these years I knew nothing about what happened to my son and
my husband were the most difficult years of my life. Imagining who they killed them, what
they did to them, how they tortured them and how they breathed their last agonizes me. And
they had been hungry, thirsty and hurt.These days, each July, are the hardest, they are
days of excruciating memories. These days are July 9 and 10 when we were expecting the
worst, July 11 when we were expelled from Srebrenica, July 12 when my son and I spent a
night in the open and witnessed atrocities - we watched them butchering people, raping
women, taking away men, snatching children from their mothers' arms. But July 13 is the
most painful of all, on that day they took away my child, my only one," tells
Sabaheta often goes to Potocari. There she is not alone, she says. This
is where her Ryad had returned to and she will always by with him by his tombstone. Every
time she goes to Srebrenica reminds her of the ruins of her past life. This Srebrenica is
no longer hers nor does she belong to this town where she was born, happily married and
had a child that was a world to her. Some new kids are playing in backyards, not her
grandchildren. She often runs into Ryad's schoolmates, they are polite to her but never
ask about Ryad. They know he is no longer. But they do not know who took him away and
killed him. This is what their fathers know. And all these years they have owed the truth
to their sons and Sabaheta but have never collected courage to spill it out.
"Srebrenica is a dead town nowadays. And it was among the most
beautiful towns once. Today, everything seems to be permeated with some pain, everything
associates some loss. The most beautiful flowers of Srebrenica are gone forever - its
youth," says Sabaheta.
On the same day as Ryad, July 11, Kada's son, Samir, a 27-year-old at
the time, joined the column of boys and men heading through woods towards the free
territory. "Dutch soldiers were directing the column. My son spontaneously separated
himself from me and my husband and went towards the woods. At the moment he was some ten
meters away from us, I thought to myself that we hadn't even said goodbye. He was a tall
youth, inches taller than the others. I called after him. He turned his head, I saw his
profile, and that's something I'll never forget. I wished him luck, that's all I said to
him. He waved his hand. That was the last time I saw my son. Then I came to Tuzla. I hoped
to see him alive one day. I hoped my husband and my brother Ekrem would show up later. But
they never showed up," Kada remembers.
Two of Kada's brothers had already been found in mass graves. One has
been buried, the other not yet - his family still hopes his skull would be dug out of some
mass grave. The manner in which her son was put to death has been haunting Kada all these
years. "Had a bullet killed him that would be easier for me, but if they had tortured
him, that would be something unbearable to think about. Be it as it may, I must learn the
truth. My husband was shot. A bullet went through his pocket watch.The dials stopped at
half past four. They stopped at the moment his heart stopped," says Kada.
"Today, I live on the fate of my dearest, my son and my husband, I
live on their deaths. I receive some meager social security and family pension. I get my
daily bread from the dead. My daughter Leila has three children and I enjoy them very
much. But when I look at them I am often grief-stricken. My Samir loved his sister dearly
but will never experience the joy of seeing her children. My husband earned to see his
daughter only and was crying for her, away from us, throughout the war. He went to his
grave never seeing her again. And that hurts, hurts deeply."
After so many years, Kada learned the bitter truth. He Samir had been
shot at the Petkovci dam, while his bodily remnants excavated from the mass grave in
Liplje. "I've seen that mass grave, that's one of the biggest. I remember all those
crushed bones. Many bodies had been thrown in water, that's why their clothes decayed.
Thinking of how thirsty, let alone hungry my Samir must have been in the heat of July is
most painful of all.Or how many deaths had he witnessed before his turn came. Had they
blindfolded him before execution? Was he still alive when they buried him? I went to that
dam in Petkovci. I was collecting shells scattered all over. I didn't know then that my
Samir had been shot there. I was thinking to myself when seeing each cartridge, 'My God,
has anyone been shot with this?' When tracked down, Samir's body was incomplete."
All that was found from Samir were toe bones, two pelvic bones and a
part of upper jaw. The mother wanted a proper burial for him, having lost any hope that
the rest of his body would ever be found. So, this July 11 Samir was buried in Potocari
together with his relatives, friends and neighbors. When he left Srebrenica on July 11,
1995, Samir wore grey pants made of tent fabric with many brown buttons. And he had a
soldier belt. Kada often used to tell people that her Samir's pants had been made of such
fabric that could not rot that easily. "Long ago, I told the people from the
Institute for Missing Persons to let me know immediately should they find such pants. I've
made them myself during the war and would always recognize them. Or, I would recognize the
buttons, I still remember their shape and pattern," she told me long ago while trying
to convince herself and me that had not suffered much before shot and that his clothes
would be found in one piece in some mass grave. Unfortunately, no clothes were found
beside Samir's body.
When she buried her Samir this July 11 in Potocari her soul found some
peace. At least she could look at the tombstone with his name on it. Watching her on that
day, crushed by pain but strong nevertheless, a scarf about her head hiding this pain
heavy as the earth thrown on the graves, I recalled our earlier visits together to the
memorial, our conversations, all those endlessly sad day, and Kada's sparkling eyes filled
with tears. Whenever pain left her speechless she began singing softly some sad song as a
relief. And she sang beautifully.
"My living is a gross injustice, how possibly could I survive my
son. My son had a right to live and I often wonder who have me this right when he is
gone.We used to have such a happy life once. That was the time when Srebrenica was an
unknown spot for people worldwide. The world didn't know about Kada Hotic's existence and
that was fine with me. I was so happy while anonymous. Today, everyone speaks Srebrenica,
even of Kada Hotic but I can never again be happy as I was while anonymous... The search
for my child ends here. Let his bones rest at peace. Allah knows where his soul is.In
the best of all places, I hope. As a mother, I wish the best place in heaven for my child.
I believe our dearest would be happy there and this belief makes my life on earth easier
to bear," she says.
The Srebrenica tragedy and the bitterness of their present lives forever
tied together Sabaheta and Kada. Whenever she has to cope with her memories, Sabaheta,
quite and aloof as she is, wants to hide herself from anyone, wants her sorrow to touch no
other human being. She hardly talks at such times and should she I think a stone would
spill a tear. She just cries silently while looking at Ryad's tombstone and a spot, not
far from there, where they had separated them for good.
"After all these years I can still see my son Ryad, as if has stands
before me, I see his beautiful smile and his beautiful eyes the color of olive.And then
this picture blurs and emerges the one I was looking at on that July 13. I see his tears
running town his beautiful, pale cheeks, while they were taking him away from me. And this
is the picture I can never forget. I see it when I wake up at night, I see it when
traveling or catching sight of some boy of his age. Then I think to myself, 'God Lord,
don't let this happen to anyone else ever again, don't let a child snatched away from its
mother as my child has been and then killed."
Once again, this year, words were useless in Potocari. Words could not
provide a refuge from that accumulated human suffering. A look at that many tearful eyes
and silent faces of mothers, sisters and children was heartbreaking. The fact that the
most responsible one for their suffering, for their ruined lives, for their broken
families and torched homes, Ratko Mladic, was now behind the bars in Scheveningen where he
would spend their rest of his life, could not relieve their tragedy. And will not bring
them back sunny mornings and happy days. It will not restore anything to them - whatever
they had before Mladic's tanks run over Srebrenica and, with silent consent by the
international community and under UN flag, plunged Podrinje into eternal grief. All that
remained in Potocari after another memorial service was over were silence, fresh graves,
flowers left for each victim and prayers for their souls. And the silence of their
neighbors, the same people turning their heads away on this July 11, like they did 16
years ago, watching indifferently or staining their hands in the rivers of blood that took
away the lives of some 10,000 residents of Podrinje.the silence of those who could have
known and told about the locations of mass graves of Bosniaks slaughtered in the
Srebrenica genocide. Those Bosniaks were denied the right to live. Now the dead have the
right not to remain nameless forever, forsaken in some pits. They have the right to be
found and buried with dignity in the Potocari Memorial Center.