Mehri Niknam

Mehri Niknam, Executive Director of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, reflects on her visit to Srebrenica.

“In March this year, I joined a group of prominent faith and interfaith representatives of Abrahamic faiths on an official visit to Srebrenica.

The visit was the continuation of the efforts of Remembering Srebrenica to bring the lessons of the genocide at Srebrenica to the attention of the public, particularly the young people. On 11 July 2013, Remembering Srebrenica organised the first UK-wide Srebrenica Memorial Day at Lancaster House, London, to honour the victims and survivors of genocide based on hatred of the other. I was privileged to be there.

In July 1995, during the war in Bosnia, 8,000 non-combatant boys and men from Srebrenica were systematically murdered by the Bosnian Serb forces of General Miladić and Serbian paramilitaries. Their bodies were buried by bulldozers in mass unmarked graves. Later when the perpetrators realised that the mass burials can be detected by satellites, they decided to cover their heinous actions for the second time. They dug up the victims’ bodies by bulldozers and buried them in a number of secondary unmarked mass graves. Thus the mutilated bodies of the massacre’s victims have been found in different mass graves. Over 1,000 bodies have not yet been recovered since those who know the locations of the mass graves refuse to tell their locations to the international authorities.

The visit to the memorial centre and the artist’s studio were particularly harrowing, tormenting and disturbing for me. Every picture, every statement, every execution building and every experience of the grieving mothers transported me to the scenes of the Holocaust. I was not observing the destruction of “a people” separate from mine; I was witnessing the genocide of my beloved “peoples”, Jews and Muslims.

It sent a shudder through me to hear that in the late twentieth century, neighbours who were witness to the murder and eviction of their Muslim neighbours closed their windows and drew their curtains so as not to see the horrors or hear the screams. As a Jew, I thought the world had learnt a lesson from such absence of humanity in what happened during the Holocaust. The world had said “never again”, and yet here we were witnessing it in Europe all over again.

Although the experience of Srebrenica shook me to the core and made me weep in sorrow, it also emboldens my resolve to do my utmost to bring its lessons to the attention of the young people. Therefore, I pledged that Joseph Interfaith Foundation will create a series of innovative educational projects to teach fifth and sixth form students the history and background of the genocide at Srebrenica. I believe it is the young people who will be instrumental in making sure that humanity is not divisible by faith, ethnicity or colour; for we are all created in the image of God.”