Bosnian Muslim Hasan Hasanović walked 63 miles across gruelling terrain to escape death at the hands of Bosnian Serbs in July 1995. He spoke to students at four schools across West London – enabling the next generation learn about the genocide at first hand.
Hasan is also calling on people across the UK to bring their communities together with a Srebrenica event in the week leading up to Srebrenica Memorial Day on 11 July at their church, synagogue or mosque – allowing them to talk about the importance of tackling hatred.
Aged 19 at the time, Hasan survived by joining thousands of other Bosnian Muslims who attempted to save their lives by walking across mountains, rivers and minefields to safety in the nearest Muslim territory of Tuzla.
Many never made it. Hasan reached Tuzla after walking for five days and six nights. He lost his father, brother and uncle, but was reunited with his mother, younger brother and grandparents. Many thousands of men and boys were systematically murdered and did not make it.
Hasan is now a curator at Bosnia’s Srebrenica-Potočari Cemetery and Memorial Centre. During his visit to London, he recounted his experiences to secondary school students from Hampton School, Reach Academy Feltham, Waldegrave School and Hampton Academy.
Hampton School student James Ingram, aged 17, said:
“Hasan’s story is amazing. Even through the horror of war and tragic events such as the Srebrenica genocide, people like Hasan show that we can adapt and succeed in the face of adversity.”
Reach Academy student Samanvitha Bhiraju, aged 14, said:
“I was shocked when I heard Hasan’s story, because it’s really unfair to treat people differently just because of the way in which they were born. I’m so glad that Hasan came to talk to us. When I’m older I’d like to go round schools and spread the word about what happened at Srebrenica.”
Remembering Srebrenica and Hampton School organised the visit, as part of the school’s Genocide80Twenty project. This was established after a recent survey found that 80% of young people were unable to name any act of genocide since the Holocaust.
Both students also took the opportunity to accompany Hasan to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, where Hasan told his story to presenter John Humphreys, before James and Samanvitha explained their thoughts and feelings after listening to Hasan’s experience.
Speaking in London, Hasan said:
“I’ve been delighted to be able to tell my story to such a receptive and engaged group of young people. Many thanks to Hampton School and Remembering Srebrenica, which is helping people to learn lessons from the past to create a better future.
“As a genocide survivor, I’m asking everyone to bring their communities together with a memorial week event in July at their church, synagogue or mosque. This allows them to talk about the importance of tackling hatred. This is important in light of the violence happening across the world. I am a victim of hatred and I hope my story inspires people to join together and create stronger communities.”
Organiser of the visit and history teacher at Hampton School Andy Lawrence explained that, given so many young people were unable to name an act of genocide since the Holocaust, it was crucially important to address this lack of knowledge and inform younger generations about what happened.
“Teaching about genocide is difficult at the best of times, given the complexity of the subject and the enormity of the issue, but one thing is clear. Survivor testimony is far more impactful than teaching from a text book can ever be. That is why we are so grateful that Hasan has flown over from Bosnia to share his story with the boys – it is the most effective way for them to learn about the events at Srebrenica and help prevent history repeating itself.”
On 11 July 1995 General Ratko Mladić and his Bosnian Serb forces marched into the town of Srebrenica and systematically murdered 8372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.
Remembering Srebrenica raises awareness of the genocide in the UK. It organises the UK Srebrenica Memorial Week, which leads up to the EU-wide day of remembrance for the victims of the genocide.
Remembering Srebrenica Chairman Dr Waqar Azmi OBE said:
“This year is the 20th anniversary of the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica – the single greatest atrocity committed on European soil since the Second World War and a brutal reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. I’m delighted that Hasan’s engagement with these young people is helping them learn lessons from a tragedy that happened before they were born. I hope his story inspires them to take personal actions that help to tackle hatred, build stronger, more cohesive communities and ensure Srebrenica is never forgotten.”
The charity also runs the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ educational visit programme to learn from the genocide and people’s lives. On return to the UK, delegates pledge to organise projects in their communities to strengthen community cohesion and create a better society.