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9 July 2016
My Story

A Srebrenica Mother’s Portrait of Her Lost Sons

Dzana Brkanic BIRN BiH Sarajevo

Ahead of the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres, a woman whose two sons were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 remembers the day she saw them for the last time.

Suhra Malic could not stand while she greeted us, but welcomed us into her home and told us to look at the picture she was holding in her elderly hands.

The photograph showed two men – Suad and Fuad Malic – her two boys who died 21 years ago, and who she can never get over losing.

“I am, thank the Lord, a lesser Srebrenica mother, since I have more sons, and grandchildren, and a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law. I am a lesser one… because there are those who have no one now,” said the 80-year-old Malic, who lost her two eldest sons in the genocide.

She rubs the photograph as if caressing it and recalls that before the war, she had five children, who she mostly raised herself, since her husband, who has since died, worked in Iraq and Libya.

When Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995, her family was living in the nearby village of Potocari.

“My son Fuad’s wife had just given birth… On July 11, 1995, Srebrenica residents started coming to Potocari. All around it was full. We did not know what would happen, and all around there was a mass of people,” said Malic, gesturing with her hand towards her window.

She said that her son Fuad, who at the time was a 36-year-old construction engineer, tried to calm the situation. However, Fuad and his brother Suad, then decided to flee with the other men and trek through the woods to try to reach safety in territory under the Bosnian Army’s control, about 100 kilometres away.

“They went to Susnjari and through Buljim… They were gone. My younger boy, Suad, said: ‘Look out for my son Dzevad, mother. I trust in you and no one else.’ The kid was just six months old. I never saw them again,” Malic recalled through her tears.

Once her sons left, she went with the rest of her family to a nearby accumulator factory, where Bosniaks had gathered, hoping that they would be safer if they stuck together.

But Serbs forces then arrived, separated out the men and loaded the women, children and elderly people into buses to take them to Bosnian Army-controlled territory. The men were then taken away and killed.

“I get mad when they say today: ‘People moved by themselves, we did not force them.’ They forced us into buses… Then they stopped us and asked for money. One kid said: ‘Mum, I hope we live’. He reached into his mother’s scarf, took out money and they let us through,” recalled Malic.

She said that the buses were stopped several times by soldiers who asked for money.

“Then they told us to go part of the way by foot… Older people were barely moving,” she added.

In the end, Malic managed to get to Bosnian Army-controlled territory, but her two sons never arrived. She carried on hoping for years that they would return to her.

When she finally stop hoping that they were still alive, she hoped their remains would be found, so she could bury them.

Two years afterwards, in 1997, she returned to the Srebrenica area for the first time since the killings. Her only wish was to find out what had happened to her sons.

“There was a Serb boy. I babysat for him when I was younger. He looked for me when he heard I had arrived,” she said.

“He told me there were graves next to [a man called] Hurem’s house and made me promise I would never reveal his name… He told me there was a thousand bodies there.”

The grave was found, but her sons’ bodies were not in it. Survivors of the massacres later told her that Fuad was killed in Kravica, where more than 1,000 Bosniaks were shot dead in a mass execution in an agricultural warehouse.

“Suad was found in Lipanj, near Tuzla. I don’t know where he was killed. One man said he was injured in the woods,” she said.

Malic still lives in the village of Potocari today; the Srebrenica genocide memorial where many of the victims are buried is visible from her window.

She says that the pain remains too great to describe.

“The skin hurts… the soul suffers. That is what my life is,” she said. “My sons cannot come back.”

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