World leaders commemorate 26th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide
By Talha Ozturk, Dilan Pamuk, and Aamir Latif
BELGRADE, Serbia/ANKARA (AA): Leading political figures across the world, including the Turkish president, commemorated the 1995 Srebrenica genocide on Sunday.
Bosnia and Herzegovina marked the 26th anniversary of the tragic events, bidding farewell to 19 newly identified victims of the massacre at a memorial service.
Every year on July 11, newly identified victims of the genocide are laid to rest at a memorial cemetery in the village of Potocari, eastern Bosnia. Thousands of visitors from various countries attend the funeral.
The memorial center is the focal point of remembrance for friends and relatives of the victims, mostly men and boys, murdered by Bosnian Serb militias.
Turkey will never let the genocide, which is “a black mark in the history of Europe and humanity,” be forgotten, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed.
In a statement, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Today, we pause to remember the victims and honour the survivors of the Srebrenica genocide.”
European Council President Charles Michel in a video message noted: “We are united in our sorrow. But also in our hope to never see such atrocities in Europe again.”
Paying respect to the families and the loved ones of the victims, Michel added: “The European Union stands by you, Bosnia and Herzegovina. You can always count on our support and our friendship.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said American people join the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in solemn remembrance of the over 8,000 victims who were murdered 26 years ago.
“We stand with the families of those who lost their loved ones and with those who tirelessly seek justice in their names.
“The tragic events of the past remind us of the need to work in unity for a better future, one that is inclusive of all citizens in a Bosnia and Herzegovina that is stable and prosperous,” said Blinken in a statement.
US Ambassador to Sarajevo Eric Nelson said: “On behalf of all people of the USA, I join all those in Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond in grieving the more than 8000 victims murdered in Srebrenica Genocide.”
In a statement, EU Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johann Sattler said: “The International Community is aware of our historic duty to put the mistakes of the past right in order to build a better future. We owe this to the victims of and their families.”
In his video message on Twitter, Nelson also noted: “What happened there 26 years ago is a fact that must never be forgotten, denied or minimized.”
UNESCO, on its official Twitter account, said: “The best tribute to all the victims is to renew today our commitment to use the power of education to preserve history & to prevent genocides from ever happening again.”
Oliver Varhelyi, the EU commissioner on neighborhood and enlargement, said Europe has not forgotten its own responsibility for not being able to prevent the Srebrenica genocide, one of the worst crimes in Europe’s modern history.
“It is our shared duty to forever remember the genocide in Srebrenica. Today 19 more victims are laid to rest. We honor their memory, and of all victims and those still missing,” he said.
President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Ersin Tatar also commemorated the victims on the 26th anniversary of the genocide.
“On the 26th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which was one of the greatest sufferings in the history of the Balkans and resulted in the massacre of 8,372 Bosnians on July 11, 1995, I respectfully commemorate those who lost their lives,” Tatar wrote on Twitter.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said words are insufficient to describe the pain and suffering. “The white tombstones of the victims, and the tears of mothers who lost their children give us an idea what happened,” he said.
The aim of Serb forces was the elimination of Muslims, to leave the families orphaned and defenseless, and to expel the Bosniaks living in this region, said Dzaferivic.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman urged the international community to ensure that the crimes against humanity like the massacre of the Bosnian Muslims should not be repeated in Palestine and Kashmir.
“Today, as we mark the 26th anniversary of the horrible massacre and ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Muslims, it reminds us of our collective responsibility to ensure that such horrible crimes against humanity don’t take place in occupied Kashmir and Palestine or elsewhere,” Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said on Twitter.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, Head of the International Criminal Procedure Mechanism Carmel Agius, North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also sent separate messages.
Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidential Council Zeljko Komsic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Turkey’s Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Serdar Cam attended the commemoration program in Potocari.
After this year’s funeral, the number of burials in the cemetery has risen to 6,671.
Azmir Osmanovic, only 16 when he was killed, was the youngest victim buried this year. Husein Kurbasic, 63, was the oldest.
At the historic bridge in Mostar – an iconic city with a pluralistic society – people gathered to throw white lilies into the Neretva River, symbolizing the innocence of the genocide victims.
Hundreds of motorcyclists from across Europe held a procession from the capital Sarajevo to Srebrenica to commemorate the victims.
More than 200 bicyclists also gathered in the northern city of Bihac to honor the victims.
Meanwhile, thousands participated in Mars Mira, an annual peace march. The first one was held in 2005 to mark the 10th anniversary of the genocide.
Thousands of people from all over the world come to the Bosnian town, and follow the same forest path used by the Bosniaks when they were fleeing genocide.
The campaign lasts three days, culminating in the participants’ arrival to Potocari.
In the Netherlands, a ceremony, traditionally staged for 26 years by seven institutions in the Het Plein Square in front of the Dutch parliament, was held this year with a limited number of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, as well as Minela Alic and Edina Pasalic, the children of the victims who survived the massacre in Srebrenica, addressed the ceremony.
Marches and commemorations were also held in North Macedonia and Kosovo to mark the 26th anniversary of the genocide.
The mass that gathered in Heldenplatz, one of the important squares of the Austrian capital Vienna, carried a banner, reading “Don’t forget Srebrenica on July 11, 1995,” along with Bosnian flags.
Speaking at the demonstration, Zeljko Komsic said banning the denial of the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina would mean prohibiting the glorification of the crime committed.
More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed when Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch peacekeeping troops.
The Serb forces were trying to wrest territory from Bosnian Muslims and Croats to form a state.
The UN Security Council had declared Srebrenica a “safe area” in the spring of 1993. However, troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was later found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, overran the UN zone.
Dutch troops failed to act as Serb forces occupied the area, killing some 2,000 men and boys on July 11 alone.
About 15,000 residents of Srebrenica fled to the surrounding mountains, but Serb troops hunted down and killed 6,000 more people.
Bodies of victims have been found in 570 different places in the country.
In 2007, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica.
On June 8, 2021, UN tribunal judges upheld in a second-instance trial a verdict sentencing Mladic to life in prison for the genocide, persecution, crimes against humanity, extermination, and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
[Photo: Women mourn near gravestones as funeral ceremony for 19 newly found victims of the Srebrenica Genocide, held at Potocari cemetery in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 11, 2021. Photographer: Elman Omic/AA]
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