'Srebrenica is not over', say Bosniaks in Istanbul

(MENAFN- The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) The 1995 Srebrenica massacre will never be truly over so long as its perpetrators evade justice, Bosniaks in Istanbul believe.

Anadolu Agency spoke to Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) living in Turkey to hear their reflections over the mass murder on its 20th anniversary.

Two decades ago in July, towards the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war, a town called Srebrenica in the eastern part of the former Yugoslav country witnessed the murder of at least 8,000 Bosnian men and boys.

Along with the forced deportation of around 30,000 women from their land, the incident became the worst mass murder in postwar Europe.

Despite a United Nations Security Council resolution which maintained that Srebrenica should remain "safe area", Serb forces attacked and captured the town.

Even the Dutchbat, several hundred Dutch soldiers under the command of the UN and entrusted to protect Srebrenica from all sides, could not prevent the slaughter.

Former Dutch defense minister Joris Voorhoeve said recently that if the UN had allowed air support for Bosniaks, the killings could have been prevented.

In Istanbul, one 27-year-old Bosnian woman spoke to Anadolu Agency about the scars the killings left on her loved ones.

"We especially avoid talking about the genocide within the family because it hurts us deeply," Amine Mucic Korkmaz says.

Her father, a lieutenant in the Bosnian government army, fought in the war. Her uncle and cousin died fighting for Srebrenica.

"I was a little child; I do not remember the war very clearly but I do remember the pain it created in the family and I still have to face the pain each time somebody talks about Srebrenica, not only on July 11 every year."

Nusret Sancakli, born in Bosnia's Sandzak region, has been living in Istanbul for over half a century.

A prolific author and an active volunteer at the Bosnia-Sandzak Cultural and Aid Foundation in Istanbul, Sancakli talks about an interview he held with an elderly Bosniak woman two weeks ago.

"I asked her how she feels 20 years after Srebrenica massacre. And here is her answer:

'I feel even worse each day when I see the Srebrenica genocide perpetrators walking around the streets. Those who fought in the war died once, but we will continue to die until the murderers and rapists pay the price.'"

"Srebrenica is the Bosniak genocide," says Sancakli, "and the Bosniaks are the long-time residents of those lands."

"The world owes a lot to thousands of women who still feel the pain like that old lady," agrees 64-year-old Davut Nuriler, who was once the coordinator of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency in Sarajevo.

He points to a draft resolution that the U.K. recently submitted to the UN Security Council strongly condemning the "genocide at Srebrenica" and the United Nations' failure to prevent it.

"It is only when the UN accepts Srebrenica as a genocide and brings the murderers to justice that [the pain of] those women-in-tears can be eased to some extent."

Having lived in Istanbul since 1958, Nuriler very often went to his hometown during the war, acting as a bridge between Turkey and the needy there.

"People in the Balkans are still expecting to see Turkey's sense of justice," Nuriler adds. "Turkey, like in the Ottoman times, still has an equal approach to the Balkan countries, investing in Serbia today as much as it invests to Bosnia, for instance."

The Balkans, being a geographical connection between Turkey and the Europe, is a priority for Turkey due to strong historical and cultural ties dating back hundreds of years.

Starting with Ottoman rule in the Balkans as early as the 14th century, there are Turkish minorities and communities across the Balkan countries as well as many citizens of Balkan-origin in Turkey itself.

Turkish officials have been attending commemorational services of the anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide on July 11 every year.

In 2013, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as Turkey's then foreign minister, said in a joint article with his Bosnian counterpart Zlatko Lagumdzija that "ethnic cleansing was the sickening theme of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina," and that Srebrenica was a symbol of "brutality of the three-year conflict in the former Yugoslavia".

Over 40,000 Bosniaks came to Turkey to escape the carnage in Bosnia, says Saffet Erdem, Board Chairman of the Friends of Bosnia and Herzegovina Foundation in Istanbul.

Erdem was registering people who had arrived in Turkey without a passport. Their numbers were high, he says, "as they did not face a problem going through the Greek and Macedonian borders while trying to reach Turkey".

Today, however, Bosniaks who came to Turkey after Srebrenica massacre number less than 500, Erdem says "because most of them returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina so as not to leave the homeland abandoned".

Bosnia is home to Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, with Bosniaks making up nearly half of the population; Serbs and Croats form the other half.

"Not all Serbs are responsible for the Srebrenica genocide," says Sancakli from the Bosnia-Sandzak Cultural and Aid Foundation. "It is the Serb Chetniks [Serbian radical nationalist guerrilla forces] who hate Bosniaks."

"There are millions of Serbian people who do not have a problem with us. I even believe that if a referendum is held today, more than half of the Serbian people will stand by Bosniaks against the nationalist Chetniks."

On Saturday, a one-hour commemoration ceremony will be held in Istanbul's Bagcilar district attended by Bosniaks in the city as well as those seeking justice for the crimes of Srebrenica massacre.

An awareness-raising campaign was started across the city to remember the victims of the massacre, says Sedat Ziyade, a doctor at Istanbul's Bezm-i Alem University Thoracic Surgery department, who also works as a volunteer in Bosniak foundations.

One hundred large billboards in four languages were recently erected across the city reading: "Don't Forget the Bosnian Genocide which took place in the safe area of the United Nations."

A four-minute film on the massacre is also being shown in nearly 40 giant screens, with English subtitles.

"All these efforts have the sole aim of preventing similar events," Ziyade stresses. "Crimes against humanity, including genocide, should be punished so seriously that nobody will even think of such crimes again."

Long road to justice

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY € a United Nations court € has charged just 19 people over the massacre, with seven being sentenced to long jail terms.

The ICTY has also affirmed life sentences for Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara, who were high-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army commanded by General Ratko Mladic.

However, Mladic's trial for war crimes at The Hague is ongoing as is that of Radovan Karadzic.

The former president of the Republika Srpska entity and commander of its wartime armed forces, Karadzic allegedly backed a campaign of sniping and shelling against the civilian population of Sarajevo.

He has gone on record as saying there was no officially backed 'ethnic cleansing' in the Bosnian War.

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