My family tree, friends and the generations of people before me is made up of those that have survived war, front lines, rape, execution, concentration camps, refugee camps and deportation.
My great grandfather was a survivor of Auschwitz. There is not much I know of his story, but what I do know is that he survived. Not only that but he walked all the way back to Kozarac, Bosnia-Hercegovina from Auschwitz, Poland. A walk, according to google, that would take 150 hours to complete. He did so malnourished, and more likely than not, with extensive injuries and only the clothes on his back.
My grandfather was rounded up and imprisoned in the Trnopolje concentration camp. He, along with a number of other men, was collected to be put onto a bus – a bus that’s destination was a mass execution site. He was stopped from entering the bus simply because a soldier knew him and refused to let him on. Ultimately saving his life.
My mother lived in the confinements of a concentration camp, made up of her primary school and the neighbouring town hall. She spent her 18th birthday in a basement whilst the town was being bombarded. A few day’s later she was held at gunpoint by her best friend.
Not long after the first incident she began to hide out of view of soldiers to evade the risk of being raped after discovering, whilst taking food to the centre of the camp, that a 12-year-old girl had been raped the night before. She was loaded onto a cattle train with her mother, sister and 1-year-old nephew. Forced into carts along with hundreds of others after being made to surrender all their valuables, only then did they proceed to the unknown destination. She walked through heavy forestation to what was once referred to as the ‘free territory’. After a number of day’s, they finally reached safety and she, along with the others, was transported to a refugee camp in Karlovac, Croatia.
My father survived a grenade attack on his home that separated him from his family. He was captured and put into his first concentration camp. During the duration of his time in the war he survived three separate concentration camps; Keraterm, Manjača and the most notorious of all Omarska. On several occasions perpetrators actively sought him out to kill him. After journalists discovered the camp, in a staged propaganda visit by a war leader, external forces finally took charge and closed the camp. That was what saved him. He was transported to a refugee camp in Karlovac, Croatia.
A relative was separated from her husband and raped in front of her two sons, the youngest of which was 2 and half years old. She was knocked unconscious and awoke to being covered in blood. She never saw her husband again. The war also claimed her brother and three nephews.
Another friend was on a bus, similar to the one my granddad was meant to be on. He was taken to Korićanske Stjene, a site of mass execution. He, along with others, was forced to kneel by the Cliffside of the ravine. Shots were fired and he proceeded to fall down into the abyss. Soldiers continued to shoot down into the drop, throwing hand grenades too. He is one of only 12 people that survived.
A woman I know, was held in Omarska concentration camp along with 35 others. The women held within the camp were responsible for cleaning interrogation rooms, also known as torture rooms. They also had the roles of camp cooks. In charge of feeding thousands of boys and men with little to no supplies. Their main purpose though, was as ‘entertainment’ for the soldiers. She, along with the other women, was continuously and systematically raped by several soldiers. As a form of belittling and degrading the women, their families and purposefully attempting to impregnate her and the others in a goal of ruining them further.
So now you know the stories. The stories of my family and friends.
You now know the stories, just like the rest of the world did – a world that watched as the war in the Former Yugoslavia grew in power each and every single day. Reports were on screens daily, if not hourly.
But even then few people even attempted to help or stop it. The majority of the world were bystanders. People that did nothing, believing that it wasn’t their problem. Thinking that it didn’t affect them. You too can pretend that it doesn’t affect you. That it never will. That you don’t know the stories.
But the reality is that it does.
Almost 22 years to the day the war ended, or should I say was frozen, the victims, survivors and their families still await justice. We still wait for our human rights to be acknowledged. For the rights of victims and survivors to be held to account as promised in international human right laws.
What we didn’t ask for, is that our perpetrators walk free, that they return to their powerful positions. That they evade answering for their actions by going into hiding. That the international community do very little in rectifying this other than putting a peace agreement in place that effectively divides the country more firmly than the war ever did. Area’s that experienced the worst atrocities known to man-kind, were essentially gifted to the perpetrators providing them with 49% of the country. An entity that refuses to acknowledge any of its wrong doing, the history of how it was founded, an entity that actively deny that genocide ever took place.
I have nothing against people of other faiths, backgrounds, sexuality, age or any other means set to divide us other than their actions. A human can only be differentiated by their actions by whether or not they are good or bad. Nothing more, nothing less.
I do not hate a whole nation. I do not hate innocent people for the actions of other’s and I most certainly do not hate the children of perpetrators, because I know that we do not choose what family we are born into.
Just like I did not choose to be born into a family of survivors, or a nation that suffered severely simply because it’s citizens didn’t fit into the ‘required’ box of nationality and faith. I didn’t chose to be born in a country that isn’t of my family’s blood. I didn’t ask to be born a female and a Muslim. Nor did I request to have my family dispersed across the world, so that I would never meet them. I did not ask to have my family killed and buried in mass graves or set on fire or tortured and abused or raped.
I didn’t ask for any of this. Just like others didn’t ask for the lives and history they were born into.
But this is my life. It is my family’s history and it is my history.
And I am not ashamed.
Being raised, surrounded by these issues, I’ve come to accept them as my normality. Because try as I might, I can never change the past, but I can try to change the future. Throughout my life I have had to educate people of the location of my homeland, let alone the dark history of the country. I also witnessed first hand how the UK commemorated so many genocides, killings and dark historical events and yet, Bosnia was never once mentioned or remembered. As such, I have made it my life’s mission to keep my family’s narrative alive and strong, because I learnt very early on that if I don’t, no one else will. It falls down to me, like many others’ in my generation, as the people that need fight to make sure our voices aren’t silenced. Our family and friends suffering is not forgotten. That justice is received however long it may take. But most importantly that there are still people searching for missing persons buried in who knows how many mass graves across the country. But one thing is for sure.
I am Bosnian, I am Muslim and I am Proud.
Amra Mujkanović was born in Scotland to two Bosnian refugees that arrived to the United Kingdom in 1993. She has a Bachelor of Arts honors Degree in Festival and Event Management from Edinburgh Napier University, and focused her dissertation on events commemorating Srebrenica and the impacts it has to form different narratives, based on memory and identity.
In the last two years, Amra has gained extensive experience speaking at conferences and addressing audiences on the topic of religious identity, nationality, refugeehood, and reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most notable have been speeches made at the House of Lords, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Amra is the partnerships officer for the UK based charity, Remembering Srebrenica, an organisation that works to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and educate the British public on the topic. As well as speaking on the necessity to learn from Srebrenica in order to see how intolerance and hatred can escalate, in her role at the charity, Amra promotes transnational solidarity between the British and Bosnian peoples through engaging with different organisations and bodies in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her work with Srebrenica is supported by the DCLG.
Amra has three generations before her that survived concentration camps, from Auschwitz to Omarska, and has made it her life’s mission to continuously share her family’s story and make sure such atrocities never happen again by challenging stereotypes as an educated duo-national white Muslim and daughter of refugees.