The Bosnian genocide took place between 1992 and 1995, around the time my generation was beginning. It was a result of the war between Bosnia and the Serbians (and a number of Croatians). In 1946, Yugoslavia was divided into six federated republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Bosnia passed a referendum for independence that was supported by the country's Muslims and Croats, but rejected by representatives of the Serb population, who established their own republic, Republika Srpska.
Following Bosnia's declaration of independence, Bosnian Serb forces (supported by the Serbian government), accompanied by the Yugoslav's People's Army, declared war on Bosnia so they could take the land for themselves. Although Croatia had first supported Bosnian independence, their president, Franjo Tudman, decided to join the war to secure land for his republic. Along with this came an “ethnic cleansing” of the Muslims in Bosnia, who represented almost half the population. This genocide wiped out 66.2 percent of the Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, in the country, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
On October 13, 1991, on the eve of war, the future president of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, expressed his view about the future of Bosnia and Bosnian Muslims: “In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be five hundred thousand dead, in one month Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” There were no Bosnian forces to fight back, and because they had been left defenseless, the country ultimately ceased to exist.
Bosnian Muslims and many non-Serbs were forced out of their homes, and women and children were sent to unhygienic detention centers or places known as “rape camps.” Zehra Smajlovic, a witness for the International Court of Justice and a Bosniak survivor, stated that nearly two dozen women disappeared when Bosnian Serbs came to the center where she was being held.
“They raped one woman whose children and parents were present, along with everyone else,” testified Alija Lujinovic, another survivor. According to the Red Cross, over two million people were displaced from their homes during the Bosnian War, and 200,000 people died, including 12,000 children. Fifty thousand women were raped, tortured, sold, or killed. Men were sent to concentration camps.
Osman Talic was a survivor of not one, but four camps. He was a witness for the International Court where he attested to the torture he endured. I was fortunate to be able to talk to Osman Talic. His English is not perfect, and he searches for words, smiling after each sentence and saying “You understand?”
“I lived in a small town called Sanski Mos in Bosnia,” he told me. “After the breakup of Yugoslavia, there was fighting and anger between the Croats, Serbs, and Muslims. In my town, I was the leader (with a few others) of the SDA, an organization that represented the Bosnian Muslims. In 1991, there was the first election in Bosnia. Since Muslims made up so much of the population, many of those elected were Muslim. The Bosnian Serbs were very angry that the Serbians had become a minority. The Serbs decided to declare war and get rid of the Muslims. They had help from Croatia, and the manpower to destroy us. The Bosnians had no weapons or outside help. We were barricaded inside Bosnia.
“On May 26, 1992, Serbian soldiers came to my town and forced me and other men out of our homes. My daughters were 15; my son was 18 and had joined the Bosnian army. My wife had died. My sister took my daughters to Slovenia to...