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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Dzidza's years of torment waiting to learn the fate of her entire family

It is 20 years since the war in Bosnia ended and some 7,000 people remain unaccounted for, leaving their surviving relatives in a state of permanent anguish. Back in 2008 journalist Nick Danziger described the pain of Dzidza, whose family disappeared in the 1995 Srebrenica massacres. Here is his account.

For 12 years Dzidza lived in hope of finding her two sons and husband alive after they went missing, but were presumed dead, as a result of the killings at Srebrenica, Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.


Potočari cemetery, Srebrenica, February 2002. Dzidza in front of the memorial erected in memory of the up to eight thousand people killed at Srebrenica.
© Nick Danziger ICRC


Until recently, Dzidza used the present tense, "I have two sons". The older one was in high school, the younger one was just about to finish elementary school. And then the war happened and they weren't able to finish their education.

Before DNA testing was available as a means of identifying the skeletal remains of those buried in mass graves, there was only the "Book of Belongings", two photo albums published by the ICRC showing items found with the remains of the dead.

In 2001 Dzidza leafed through every page of the two large albums. "I went through it, one photograph after another, and I prayed to God not to recognize anything, even though I wanted to know at least something – to end this uncertainty," she says.

Some families were able to identify missing relatives through the ICRC's book, but thousands of bodies exhumed from mass graves remained unidentifiable and thousands more lay buried in mass or individual graves.

When DNA became a method of matching a living relative's blood sample to one taken from a recovered bone, some like Dzidza either remained sceptical or did not want to confront reality, saying: "For quite some time I didn't want to give blood. I didn't want to believe they were dead."
In early 2005, nearly 10 years after the massacre, she gave a blood sample to the ICMP (International Commission on Missing Persons), because a neighbour talked her into it.

On 13 November 2007 Dzidza received a phone call from Emir, her case worker. "He told me that they had identified one of my sons, but they couldn't tell me which one because they were too close in age. Almir was born in 1977, Azmir in 1974. He also told me that they had identified my husband, Abdullah, through a single bone, the only one they have recovered of his from a large mass grave.”


Potočari cemetery, Srebrenica, February 2002. The dead include Dzidza’s husband, her two sons and her two brothers.
© Nick Danziger ICRC

Dzidza regularly visits the site in Potočari, near Srebrenica, where a memorial has been built to more than eight thousand people who were killed and where one of her brothers is buried. "It is important not just for me but for all the other mothers that there is a memorial," she insists. "Even though my child's remains are complete, how can I bury him not knowing which one it is?!"

"There is not enough of my husband to bury. It is a crime upon a crime: first to have a child killed, then not even to get his bones. How many more mass graves need to be opened to find the rest of the bones?"

Today, Dzidza lives beyond grief and has cried all the tears that is humanly possible. She exists on her memories, her loved ones' voices ringing in her head, dreaming only of bringing peace to the souls of Abdullah, Almir and Azmir.

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