Tarik Samarah’s photography exhibition at Galerija in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, powerfully depicts the aftermath of genocide in Srebrenica, where Serb militias systematically slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1994.
Samarah’s black and white images provide a stirring metaphor for the stark boundary that divides life and death. Victim’s bones and possessions litter eerie forest landscapes; their bodies now rest in a mass grave in Potocari, a small village North of Srebrenica. The hollow eye sockets of a man’s earth-ridden skull stare back at me, as if to ask, “Why was this allowed to happen?”
These photographs force us to bare witness to Europe’s worst – and possibly most mysterious – massacre since World War II. By leading us away from the false sense of security provided by naivety and blind indifference, Samarah compels us to remember.
Images show excerpts from the everyday existence of survivors: children playing; widows weeping; a refugee camp in Tuzla. The most poignant image, though, is of a single spade at the front of a pile of tools used to bury victims; like the lives of the Muslims of Srebrenica, it’s broken – snapped in two.
Elsewhere I can see that survivors, although traumatised, remain stoic and courageous, as they were during the three-year siege of Srebrenica. Buses are shown transporting widows to the commemoration ceremony in Potocari; despite having been ethnically cleansed from Srebrenica, Muslims return every year to mark the anniversary of the massacre. Another photograph depicts a mother at a peaceful protest, demanding more be done to find the remains of her missing son.
There are images of body bags stacked in neat rows at the Tula Commemorative Centre, which is slowly and meticulously using DNA analysis to identify victim’s remains. Although painful, this process can provide survivors with the closure they need – allowing them to move forward with their lives, and never forget the fate of their menfolk.
Srebrenica is a symbol – not only of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina – but also of the suffering of innocent people across the world. By denying victims of mass atrocity crimes the social and historical meanings of their demise, we kill them twice: once in life and once in death. And although we will never fully understand the horrors experienced in this small Bosnian town in July 1995, these pictures have brought me a little closer to the truth, and for that I am grateful.