Hatidza Mehmedovic – who headed the Mothers of Srebrenica, an association compromised of relatives of those killed in the Srebrenica genocide – passed away at a hospital in Sarajevo on Monday at the age of 65.
On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces systematically killed more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys in the UN-declared “safe area”. It was the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
Mehmedovic’s husband, two sons, and brother were among those killed.
The following is based on a visit to Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2008. I was reporting on the Bosniaks who returned to their homes following the war in the early 1990s. I first met Mehmedovic in 2003.
Camil Durakovic, mayor of Srebrenica at the time, was waiting for us in the centre of Srebrenica so we could go together to Gladovici, a village nearby, to see Elvis and Izudina.
When we arrived, Izudina was alone in their house. Elvis was watching over their sheep in Sulice, a village several kilometres away. My phone rang, it was Hatidza. She’s was going to make maslenica – a Bosnian speciality baked with layers of pastry and butter – from wholegrain four.
She wanted to check when we would come to her place in Vidikovac, a nice settlement on the outskirts of Srebrenica. Hatidza didn’t want the maslenica to get cold.
We spoke to Elvis and Izudina not just for the story, but for our own souls as well.
Then we set out for Vidikovac. Hatidza was waiting for us in the yard of the house where she lived alone.
She showed us pine trees planted by one of her sons. She had two sons, and lost them both.
“His name is written there, in front of the door: ‘Almir’, and then ‘Lalo’. This is very important to me,” said Hatidza in a low voice.
She went on to tell us that she lived in somebody else’s yard and somebody else’s house for seven and a half years.
“All houses are nice, all yards are nice but there’s no nicer house or nicer yard or even a nicer road than the one that leads to your home,” she said.
“But even in this house … I go to bed with sadness and I wake up with sadness because it’s hard. You know that a child is the biggest joy in the world and the biggest sadness and sorrow in the world.
“And my children are no more and our children are no more. Thousands and thousands of … children are no more just because they had certain names. But it wasn’t their fault that they had those names. Children don’t choose their names, or their parents, or the place where they’re born.”
She showed me a marble that belonged to her sons and their school books, which miraculously remained intact.
“I never believed I could live this life as I live it now. But I do. And now, instead of expecting my children to come home from work, expecting my grandchildren to sit on my lap, expecting to have daughters-in-law, expecting wedding guests, now we have the eleventh day that we live for,” said Hatidza, as she put the maslenica on a tablecloth as white as snow.
“Eat it, children, before it gets cold.”