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South Salt Lake Journal

Never forget, never again: event to remember Bosnian genocide hopes to bring more awareness

Aug 07, 2022 08:20PM ● By Jesse M. Gonzalez

By Jesse M. Gonzalez | [email protected]

An event took place July 18, at the Salt Lake County Government Center on South State Street, to detail the horrific experience that had taken place 27 years ago: the Bosnian genocide of 1995.

The Emerald Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization operating in the Salt Lake City region has been engaged in the fight against Islamophobia and the misrepresentation of Islam since 2017. They had their latest event with “Srebrenica: Never Forget. Never Again.”

The first half of the meeting was committed to the Srebrenica massacre, July 11, 1995, in which the lives of 8,372 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys were lost by the hands of Bosnian Serbian forces as the women and girls were forced to be put on buses and sent to Bosnian Serb territories, where more malicious acts were committed. This was all due to the idea of “ethnic cleansing” that Serbia wanted to act on to remove Bosniaks from Yugoslavia.

The second half of the event was dedicated to discussing current genocides happening around the world. “We hear this going on in a lot of media outlets, because genocide and abuse isn’t something that is advertised, it’s something that happens in secret and in the dark,” said Gary Croft, a spokesperson for the event. “So we want to shed some light on this.”

“It was the largest mass murder that happened in Europe since World War II, and yet many of us in this country have not heard much about it. The massacre was a result of Islamophobia that had been going on for centuries. The massacre lasted for 12 devastating days.”

Over 5,500 Bosnians now call Salt Lake City their home, and many of those who are old enough to remember such an atrocity may always struggle to find peace. There was a sorrowful, yet wakeful presence that dominated the room in the North Building of the Salt Lake County Government Center to truly “never forget” to ensure that something so evil will never happen again.

Ermina Mustafic-Harambasic, one of the organizers of the event, was a little girl when the massacre took place. “I’ve often felt like our families’ stories were being lost and forgotten as our parents passed away so I wanted to find a way to document these stories. My mother had lost two of her brothers, and she couldn’t be here today. It’s a very difficult conversation,” said Mustafic-Harambasic, who had also showed those in attendance a short film that she had directed, detailing the genocide. “It’s really hard to find peace with it all.”

“I had a massive identity crisis and that’s why I joined Emerald Project when I did. My family members were killed for being Muslim, and then I come to America and I’m told ‘You’re not a Muslim, you’re white’ and that was a really difficult dynamic for me to walk through and balance through,” said Mustafic-Harambasic.

Although many American Muslims still struggle with their identity, especially those who first arrive in the United States, there are many who remain patient and culturally open, eventually finding solace in states like Utah.

“I’m 42 years old; I came to the United States when I was 19. My wife is also from Bosnia—we have three wonderful kids together. We’re happy, we love Utah and I wouldn’t change Utah for any other state. It’s good for every faith. We feel welcome here,” said Allen Romanovich, who fled from Bosnia during the war.

Though the war in Bosnia is over, many monstrosities happen all over the world—Ukraine, for instance, was mentioned as a means to keep attention on the war and to not let it slip out of public consciousness as so many other enormities in the world do.

“Thank you for being here and using that vulnerability to help us, who are not as close to the issue, become more aware and become more compassionate,” said Croft, thanking Mustafic-Harambasic and Romanovich for sharing their stories.

“I’ve never been provided a space to talk about my people’s genocide the way I have been by Emerald Project and that’s allowed me to dive deeper into who I am and what it means to be Bosnian American Muslim,” said Mustafic-Harambasic. 

“We have been acknowledged by our state leaders and local officials and have been provided space. I really appreciate the small acknowledgements—like the iftars (breakfast served at sunset to end the fast) that we’ve had during Ramadan. Do I think the general community can become more aware? Yes. There is still a lot of work to be done.”