The genocide survivor who searches for bones

Ramiz Nukic, a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide, now searches for the bones of victims.

The genocide survivor who searches for bones
Ramiz Nukic survived the Srebrenica genocide and now searches for the bones of those who didn’t [Jasmina Djikoli/Al Jazeera]

Ramiz Nukic survived the Srebrenica genocide. He tells Bosnian journalist Jasmina Djikoli why he feels compelled to search for the bones of those who didn’t.

It has been 22 years since I survived genocide.

I am from the village of Kamenicko Brdo in eastern Bosnia. Before the war, life here was simple and beautiful. There were 32 households, each with at least four children. Now, my family is the only one left. The village is forsaken.

I was 41 when the war started in 1992. I had a wife and five children. In the first year, we were able to defend ourselves. But when the Serb forces attacked our village in 1993, we were forced to flee towards Srebrenica. My parents and brothers had also fled there.

Every house in Srebrenica was full of people, those fleeing other towns and villages. My wife, children and I found a wooden garage to live in. But we were surrounded by the enemy, there was barely any food and the living conditions were poor. As a parent, I felt powerless and humiliated.

On July 11, the Serbs attacked Srebrenica. The streets were filled with people. UN trucks were transporting women and children to their base in Potočari. I told my wife to go with them. My youngest son clung tightly to my legs. “Father, don’t let me go,” he said. “They will kill me.” It was one of the most painful moments of my life. But I had to let them go. 

My father, my two brothers and I joined the rest of the men from the town. We were completely defenceless. Our plan was to cross through enemy territory to reach the territory of Tuzla, held by the Bosnian army. But it was a 100km journey by foot through challenging terrain. We knew there was a chance we wouldn’t make it.

We started our journey at night. By the morning, we had reached the forest close to my old home in Kamenicko Brdo. We stopped to rest.

As I knew the terrain there, one of the commanders asked me to lead the group. I went to the front, leaving my father and brothers behind. As soon as I left them, the shooting began. I heard an explosion and artillery fire. It seemed to be coming from every direction. I threw myself to the ground. I could hear the screams of people being killed. Death felt so close; I didn’t think I’d survive. I couldn’t go back for my brothers and father. I never saw them again. I started running downhill to our village. There were dead bodies all around. Images of my children ran through my mind.

I passed through my village and reached a creek, where I sat for a while. Then I stood and started walking. I felt nothing in that moment, not even fear.

For six days and nights I walked without food or shoes. I was with a group of 100 people. Somehow, with hardly any weapons, we broke through the front line. With God’s help, we made it. The next day, I was reunited with my wife and children.

A few months later, the war ended. But I remained a refugee until 2001. When I heard it was safe, I went to visit my home, which is now in a part of the country called Republika Srpska. My wife and children continued living as refugees, but I felt as though I needed to stay in my village, to live on the land of my forefathers.

I slept in a garage. There was nobody else nearby. The memories of what had happened remained vivid. I knew how many men and boys had died here. And I knew that God had saved me for a purpose.

As I was cleaning the area, I started to find human bones. It gave me the idea to search for the remains of my loved ones. So I climbed the hill where I last saw them alive.

Now, almost every day I go into the forest to search for the lost men. I have found the remains of at least 200 people. The remains of my father and brothers were found a few years ago in mass graves around Srebrenica.

I know that by searching for and finding those bones I can help many people, especially mothers who are searching for their sons.

I saw death many times. It doesn’t scare me. But I’m grateful to be alive so that I can help others find those who didn’t survive. 

Source: Al Jazeera