Dr. Mient Jan Faber, a visiting scholar who teaches a class on military intervention and human security each fall in the Honors College, selected four Honors College students to join him and his Ph.D. student, Martijn Dekker, in July 2012 at an annual conference in Srebrenica, Bosnia. The Honors College students attended conference sessions with graduate students from around the world; engaged with survivors, politicians, scholars, and artists on the questions of genocide and reconciliation; and witnessed the burials of newly identified victims of the 1995 genocide. Adrienne Huntsman and Krystafer Redden travelled with Dr. Faber to Tuzla, a multi-cultural city where Muslims, Serbs, and Croats managed to stay together during the war, and met with NGOs and political leaders. Diane Stout and Safa Ansari-Bayegan participated in the annual three-day peace march in commemoration of the tragic events of 1995.
I chose to join the 5,500 participants in the annual Marš Mira peace march. We marched 110 kilometers (68 miles) over three days, retracing the steps of about 15,000 Muslim boys and men who attempted to flee Srebrenica 17 years ago. We walked roughly 35 kilometers each day through mountainous terrain in sweltering heat. On July 8, we began the march in the Muslim free territory of Nezuk, where the survivors found protection in 1995. On July 10, we reached the finish line in Potočari, where over 5,000 victims of the Srebrenica genocide are buried and where more would be laid to rest. Although we were immersed in the painful and tragic story of the survivors and the victims, I realized that I was merely glancing on the vivid and harrowing suffering of the Bosnians around us. It was the most humbling and potent experience I had ever encountered. The warmth and strength of the Bosnian people left me with a lasting impression.
The base of the Summer University Srebrenica conference and the final destination of the march was Potočari, a sleepy village where we seemed to be the only outsiders. Upon reaching Potočari again on the third day, I saw the thousands of white tombs from the top of the hill, and was instantly reminded of why I had decided to march. As I plodded over the last stretch of gravel and turned onto the paved road in Potočari, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, by the noise, and by the sight of family members carrying the green caskets from an old factory warehouse on the United Nations compound—which had been declared a ‘safe area’ in 1993—to the cemetery in preparation for the July 11 burial. Our picturesque home base had turned into a crowded parade ground for an infamous page of recent history.
On July 11, we all returned to Potočari to witness the carrying of those 520 caskets containing the remnants of newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and to participate in the annual commemoration. After the name of each victim was called one by one, the coffins were borne through the crowds to their burial sites. It was an event that mourned the unjustifiable and tragic loss of human life in the presence of thousands of survivors and relatives of the dead.