by Hasan HADZIC
They forced us to pass in groups through a double row of torturers who hit us with metal bars. The bloodied people fell to the ground... They started to take away one group after another in trucks. Though the canvas flap was in place, judging by the length of the journey and the flatness of the ground I concluded that the killing field was located in a field close to the Drina. In no time at all we were facing the guns. It was all over! We were in such a state of shock that no one was able to cry out. I exchanged glances with my uncle Sejdo and firmly shook his hand, for the last time. And then I lost consciousness. I don't know how long I heard or saw nothing. When I regained consciousness, there was silence all around. I was covered by twisted dead bodies."
That is part of the horrifying story that Fedahija Hasanovic, a native of Setici who survived his own execution at the start of June 1992, told me soon after he had managed, though severely wounded, to reach the free territory near Tuzla. Extracts of his testimony were published a few days later in The New York Times.
Sahbegovic's secret: According to Fedahija's rough estimate at the time, out of 800 imprisoned civilians from the villages of Klisa, Djulic and Setici in the Zvornik area, aged between 15 and 70, half were killed at Karakaj. The others were deported in buses to Bijeljina, or more exactly to the infamous Pilica that Drazen Erdemovic, convicted by the court in The Hague, would later cite as the site of mass executions of the people of Srebrenica. In the Culture Center at Pilica the inhabitants of these villages were tortured again, and dozens of them were killed. According to most testimonies, the rest were executed in Duboki Potok, close by, and other locations in the vicinity.
Over recent years around 200 of their bodies were discovered and identified at Glumina, Berbici and other mass graves in the Zvornik area, and buried in a separate cemetery near Kalesija. According to the most reliable estimates, half of the remaining 600 lie in the newly discovered graveyard at Crni Vrh, the mountain pass between Zvornik and Kalesija. They were brought there in 1995, having been exhumed from the original burial ground at Sahbegovici. The Serb authorities feared that one of the survivors of Srebrenica, who used the route in their march to Tuzla, might discover the secret of Sahbegovici. That is why the bodies of the murdered inhabitants of Djulici, Klisa and Setici were transferred to the even more obscure location at Crni Vrh, where they were buried together with hundreds of freshly murdered inhabitants of Srebrenica for whom this was their primary burial ground.
"One cannot tell what the ultimate figure will be, but on the basis of what has been excavated and my long experience in this kind of work, I am convinced that this is the single largest mass graveyard discovered so far in Bosnia-Hercegovina," says a member of the team working on the exhumation. A figure of 700 bodies is being mentioned.
Another reporter would probably pay greater attention to the findings of the forensic experts, the court investigators and the members of the state commission for locating the disappeared; but in my case this is simply impossible, since for me these grisly skeletons and skulls are not a pile of remnants of "some" victims, but of very real people with whom I spent several dramatic days as a refugee in Medjedja near Sapna. Between April 10 and 20, 1992, some 15,000 people sought refuge in this village of around 400 houses.
Keeping watch at the grave: We were surrounded, cut off from the municipal centre of Zvornik, which was already under occupation, and from Kula-Grad in its immediate hinterland, where self-organized defenders had for the past month been offering a heroic resistance. We were convinced at the time that the Bosniak leaders of Zvornik municipality had joined the resistance, only to be told later that they had "timely" left their base and moved to the west.
We waited desperately for some instruction or order so that we would know what to do. We called the Bosnia-Hercegovina presidency, but there was no one there except for an adviser to Fikret Abdic, who appeared to be even more confused and lost than we were. We could not expect any help from Tuzla, since the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) was still stationed in the barracks there and at the nearby airport. Amid the general chaos, matters were made worse by the information that was being tirelessly repeated by Radio Sarajevo: "According to TANJUG [former Yugoslav state news agency, based in Belgrade], JNA units under the command of General Jankovic have entered Zvornik where they are now establishing law and order and ensuring security of all citizens." We, however, had reliable information that Arkan's men had already killed hundreds of people in Zvornik; but it was impossible to persuade the panicky mass of refugees or direct them in any way.
The hard-working peasants of Djulici, Setici and Klisa, worried about their buildings, animals and agricultural machinery and, believing that all this havoc was a passing phase, started to return to their homes in the direction of the Drina river. I remember Omer Lupic, a young and mild-mannered giant of a man, setting off with a group of his neighbors crammed aboard his tractor trailer. I stood in front of them and begged them not to return to their villages, quoted the lies being put out by Belgrade TV about 10,000 "green berets" being trained in a camp at Medjedja, and tried to persuade them that these lies were an alibi for the continuation of massacres. It was all in vain. These good people, on the one hand deserted and betrayed by a government for which they had voted, and on the other hand fearing the loss of their property acquired over many decades, were condemned - though wholly innocent - to become victims.
Today their few surviving relatives are standing guard at the graveyard of Crni Vrh, hoping to find some trace of Omer, of his father Avdo and of another six hundred of their neighbors. They will have to wait for weeks if not months, however, to identify them, since the skeletons were dug up once before, then jumbled together again with building machinery as if they were stones. The executioners' expert teams worked hard, moreover, to ensure that the bodies would be devoid of personal documents or any other visible marks of identity.
Evidence of crime: Climbing down from Crni Vrh towards Kalesija, I thought about how Serbs living in houses less than three hundred meters away from the grave had allowed their authorities to leave such evidence of crime in their immediate vicinity. Before the official discovery of the grave and the start of exhumation, did they warn their children to avoid going there, or at least not to play on the field close to the place where hundreds of their neighbors were buried, among them, as we now know, children under twelve years of age? If they did remain indifferent to all this, then the basis of that indifference is a phenomenon that should worry us as much as the crime itself. Such thoughts had likewise preoccupied me before I got to the grave, while I was taking photographs of the technical school centre in Karkaj. I read displayed on the wall the list of new students and the timetable of exams to be retaken, and I asked myself whether one would ever be able to read there a list containing the names of Hrustan Avdic and all the other residents of Klisa, Djulici and Setici who were murdered in this school, in a manner to rival the most monstrous deeds from the fascist era. Do the school's teachers, as they lecture on the poetry of Desanka Maksimovic or on the crimes committed at Jasenovac, ever fall silent, thinking that in June 1992 these schoolrooms were covered in the blood of their former pupils? If not, how do they manage never to think about it? Will anyone ever tell the pupils what happened in their own school to other of its pupils during the summer vacation in 1992?
During this day of most horrible sights and memories, I wondered whether Sulejman Tihic, the member of the Bosnian presidency who was visiting Crni Vrh that morning, would have the heart to continue fashioning Bosnia-Hercegovina in the company of Dragan Kalinic and Dragan Cavic [Serb Democratic Party (SDS) leaders], the authentic heirs of the ideology that created this Crni Vrh and many others like it. What, indeed, is the price of power?
"What particularly shocked me, however, was not Srebrenica itself but my visit to Pilica, one of the sites of mass executions. Some 500 people were killed in its Culture Center, located opposite a cafe, on July 16 1992. I went to the cafe having heard the testimony given by Erdemovic, who on that day [July 12] had returned from Branjevo [near Duboki Potok, where the inhabitants of Djulici perished] where 1,200 people had just been killed. When he was asked to kill another 500, he refused; he went to the cafe and they drank coffee there while on the other side of the street people were being killed. Those who tried to escape were shot on the spot; one could hear the explosions of hand grenades and human cries. I went there before the start of the trial and had a coffee; I had arrived in a clearly marked UN vehicle and everyone there knew well why we were there. Sitting in the place where Erdemovic had sat, I looked around and knew that some of the people there knew what had happened - maybe those who were serving the coffee, maybe the cafe owners - but no one approached to say: ‘You're the investigators? I'll tell you what happened.' Sitting in this company, so indifferent or maybe scarred, or whatever, and asking myself what it is that prevents normal human beings from doing their moral duty and testifying about a crime, was the most horrifying experience of my life. I was greatly moved by Srebrenica, but it was the visit to Pilica that upset me in particular, since I saw that a monument to dead Serb soldiers had been erected in front of the Culture Center. These men had died for their cause, believing in what they were doing; but it was highly arrogant to erect a monument to them in front of the site of one of the most shameful crimes in the whole war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I tell you, it was the most shocking thing."
This café, mentioned by Harmon, was working at full steam in June 1992. The killers quenched their thirst there and celebrated the killing records that they had been breaking in the Culture Center. Everything was as usual, except for the victims. The inhabitants of the Zvornik villages were killed in 1992 and those of Srebrenica in 1995. Many were buried in the same grave, the one discovered at Crni Vrh, which is why it represents not only the largest of the mass graves but also the most brutal testimony to a perfect circle of crime. Srebrenica was only the most tragic last link in a chain made up of many earlier Srebrenicas.
Although Brano Grujic, leader of the SDS and of "Serb Zvornik", bears most responsibility for crimes in Zvornik, other men are responsible for what happened to the villagers of Djulici, Setici and Klisa. One of these is Stevo Radic, secretary of the Zvornik municipality at the time. Radic was born in Jardan, a village close to Djulici; according to several Serb sources, he insisted that all Bosniak males - i.e. the neighbors with whom he had attended the local primary school, traveled in the same bus to the secondary school in Zvornik, and played football in local tournaments - should be exterminated. Today, Radic is one of the wealthiest men in Zvornik.
There is also Dragomir Vasic, whose political career, thanks to Ashdown's recent and belated intervention, is in decline, but whose wealth is also considerable. Together with Radic he made sure that more moderate views regarding the fate of the slain villagers were ignored. It is also the case that Vasic, immediately after the deportation of the Bosniak population from Djulici, moved into their houses Serb refugees from Brnjica near Zivinice - so that Djulici until quite recently was officially re-named Brnjica.
While the Hague Tribunal has had no contact with Radic up to now, it has developed a close cooperation with Vasic, in a manner implying that he may be let off. But one only need recall what his close collaborators Momir Nikolic and Dragan Obrenovic have said about his role in the Srebrenica massacre.