Bosnia may not resemble Northern Iraq physically, but the group of Yezidis attending this year’s commemoration of the genocide in Srebrenica may recognize the feelings expressed by Bosnian Muslims. Like the Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s, the Yezidi community in Iraq have been victims of horrible human rights abuses, including murder, rape, kidnapping and expulsion. The visit gives Bosnian Muslims and Iraqis the chance to exchange stories and learn from one another.
Four men and two women, all active in peace committees in Northern Iraq, will visit Eastern Bosnia from 8 to 12 July. Much of their home province of Ninewa was taken over by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) in 2014. Yezidis in Ninewa (Sinjar) in particular were victims of systematic abuse, recognized by the United Nations as genocide.
Prevent New Violence
During their visit to Sarajevo and Srebrenica, the Iraqi Yezidis will visit PAX’s partner organizations and representatives of survivors of the Bosnian Muslim genocide. They will also visit the exhibit ‘Srebrenica Genocide – the Failure of the International Community’ at the Potocari Memorial Centre and take part in the annual commemoration. Iraqi Yezidis and Bosnian Muslims will have the opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives about working in areas where genocide and other terrible human rights abuses have taken place. The central issue for such communities is how past events can find a place through truth finding, commemoration and remembering, in a way that gives victims recognition of their suffering while at the same time preventing new rounds of violence.
Truth and Justice
On 11 July, the annual commemoration of the genocide in Srebrenica which in July 1995 cost the lives of more than 8,000 Bosnians will take place. The United Nations had declared Srebrenica a safe area under UN protection. But Dutch soldiers serving under the UN (known as Dutchbat) did not provide the promised protection. This year, 22 years after the genocide, the recently recovered remains of about 50 victims will be laid the rest at the cemetery at Potocari.
PAX has been involved in the region since before the war broke out in what was then Yugoslavia. PAX supports the campaign for truth and justice of the survivors of Srebrenica, and takes an active part in the public and political debate regarding Srebrenica in the Netherlands. The peacebuilding organization has supported legal cases against the Dutch government and has organized meetings between survivors and members of Dutchbat. This past February, PAX joined with the Potocari Memorial Centre and the Camp Westerbork Memorial Centre in opening an exhibit in the former Dutchbat compound.
In northern Iraq, the massacres in Ninewa by the hands of ISIS in 2014 will be commemorated on 3 August. One of the participants of the visit to Srebrenica is organizing the commemoration. Ceremonies will take place in Irbil, Bagdad and Basra. A group of Yezidi women will walk in a silent march holding candles. The members of the Iraqi delegation to Srebrenica are part of PAX´s peacebuilding programme in northern Iraq geared toward restoring trust between citizens and governing authorities, and between communities divided by years of conflict.