Survivor of Bosnian genocide reminds that genocides continue to occur
The Yom HaShoah service is at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 5, at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave.
Students will read winning entries in the Eva Lassman Memorial Creative Writing Contest. There will be an exhibit of winning artistic entries, a children’s candle procession, a candle-lighting ceremony and music by the Mead High School Ensemble.
Admir Rasic, a 27-year-old Bosnian Muslim, will light a candle at the 2016 Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah, on behalf of survivors of contemporary genocides.
His invitation to light the candle is a reminder that genocide continues.
“When you see firsthand the effects of genocide, such as in Srebrenica, in schools and factories, or in Dachau, it’s hard to understand or make sense of genocide,” he said. “I have much more to learn.”
He became involved with the Interfaith Council last year because he wants to help create a community that values diversity and believes “we are stronger because of diversity.”
|Admir Rasic tells about his family’s experience of a recent genocide.|
“I want to make a better community for my daughter, Najla, 3, so it is not a community limited by religious or ethnic identity, or being second-generation American,” he said.
He appreciates the eagerness of people to meet neighbors of other faiths and ethnicities through the Interfaith Council’s Meet the Neighbors program.
“It makes us more wholesome,” he said of visiting the Sikh and the Jewish temples, and welcoming people to the Islamic Center.
Born in Teslic in northern Bosnia, he was three in 1992 when the war broke out. For six months, his father, Adem, was in a Serbian concentration camp, imprisoned by Serbian neighbors along with other non-Serbs—ethnic Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Catholics who were fighting the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.
Soldiers used prisoners for slave labor and as human shields, firing their guns over their shoulders.
The captors sent prisoners home for a day on occasion to see that their families were alive and would comply, Admir said.
“One of these times, we ran away to a Red Cross safe zone and made our way north by bus through Serbia, Hungary and Austria, and by train to Germany.
From 1993 to 1999, his family lived in Markt Indersdorf, a suburb of Dachau, the site of one of the largest concentration camps in the Holocaust.
His mother, Enisa, who had been a nurse, worked in a bakery, and his father, who had been a locksmith and welder, worked in construction. Admir and his sister went to a German school and learned German quickly.
There was no mosque, but his parents taught them to treat everyone with respect, to honor freedom of speech and to respect other religions.
They lived with other refugees forced out of former Yugoslav republics. Like many others, they were forced to move back in 1999. They first lived with an uncle, his wife and son in a one-bedroom apartment. His parents found an apartment in Zenica.
In February 2000, his family moved to Twin Falls, Idaho, for a month and then to Spokane where his mother had two sisters. His family has lived here since then.
“When I came, I spoke no English. I took English as a Second Language (ESL) in fifth grade and the next year was out of ESL,” he said.
Because Admir graduated from Rogers High School with enough credits from Running Start for an associate degree at Spokane Community College, he completed a degree in English literature in two years in 2009 at the University of Washington in Seattle.
After college, Admir lived in Bellevue and in New Jersey for two years, working with the Federation of Balkan American Association, encouraging Balkan youth to go to college. Many Balkan immigrants had settled in impoverished areas. Many youth dropped out of high school or turned to crime because they had few opportunities, he said..
“It was devastating for parents and youth who had survived genocide,” he said. “I helped youth prepare for pre-college exams, involved them in sports and was a positive role model.”
Admir’s wife, Azra, was also born in Bosnia, but moved to the United States in 1994. Her family lived as refugees a year in Turkey before they came to live with an uncle in Fargo, N.D., and then settled in Atlanta. Azra earned a master’s degree in criminal justice at Georgia State University.
Admir and Azra met in New Jersey, married in Spokane in 2012, and after a year living in New York, where he taught school, they decided to raise their daughter in Spokane. He now works with Ecova.
In conversations with his parents, from the time he lived in Bosnia, and from visits there with family in 2006, 2007 and 2012, Admir has learned more about the genocide. His father’s uncle disappeared in the war.
“His remains were found two years ago in a mass grave nine feet from a road. He and 40 other Muslims from our village were buried together,” said Admir.
His grandparents were from different villages in the same area. Grandparents on both sides experienced “ethnic cleansing” and were forced from their homes. His maternal grandmother was in a displacement center run by ethnic Serbs until the war ended. The Serbs burned original documents, so people had to replace them. It was a long process to reclaim their land. Other people were living in their houses.
“The war ended in 1995, but my mother’s mother did not have her land returned until 2000, five years after her husband died. She lived until 2008,” Admir said. “My paternal grandmother and grandfather had their land back before they died. She died in 2004, after we were in the United States. He died in 2013.”
“There are still struggles from the war and genocide,” he said. “The divisions are not healed among neighbors or in politics. The political party in the Serbian region was the same one in power during the genocide.”
On March 24, 2016, after a nine-year trial in the Hague, the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslav war crimes found former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty on charges of genocide and war crimes, and sentenced him to prison for 40 years.
In 2012, Admir went to Srebrenica, the site of the largest genocide since World War II. It was a United Nations safe zone with many internally displaced people, he said. Serbs convinced the peacekeepers to open the gates to let them pass through. In July 1995, they massacred 10,000 Muslim boys and men in three days and mass raped women.
“They are still uncovering bodies digging up remains in mass graves,” Admir said.
When he went in 2012, international forensic scientists were uncovering bones and matching them to form complete bodies. Each year they have a mass funeral for bones uncovered that year, usually the remains of about 700 people, he said.
“One mountain side is now a cemetery with individual gravestones of people murdered because of their religion,” said Admir, who went there with U.S. and Bosnian cousins.
About 50,000 people visit the site each year.
In Spokane, Admir said there are about 150 Bosnian families, about 500 people. Many Bosnians tend to be secular because his parent’s generation grew up under communism, when people of faith had limited opportunities. Those who joined the party were accepted and had benefits.
Admir’s family attends the Spokane Islamic Center regularly.
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