Hamad Bin Khalifa University alumnus Vahid Suljic narrates his journey from Europe’s worst massacre since World War II to Doha
Fifty years after the world said “never again” to the horrors of the Holocaust, genocide took place on European soil. The name Srebrenica has become synonymous with those dark days in July 1995 when, in the first ever United Nations declared safe area, thousands of men and boys were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves. The victims, predominantly Muslim, were selected for death on the basis of their identity. This was the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War.
On Sunday, July 11, 2021, thousands of people will gather at Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. In 2009, the European Parliament declared July 11, the official day of remembrance for the victims of Srebrenica. On this day each year, people all over the world are asked to honor the victims and survivors of the genocide.
Vahid Suljic – an alumnus of Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and of Qatar University –survived the Bosnian war and the Srebrenica genocide as a nine-year-old boy.
Suljic was born in a small village named Voljavica near the border with Serbia. In May 1992, Serb soldiers began torturing and killing his neighbors from nearby villages. Those who were still alive were taken to concentration camps. For a while, he and his family hid in the woods near their house, because they were afraid that what had happened to their neighbors would happen to them. To save themselves, they fled to Srebrenica, which was under the control of the legal Bosnian army.
On that road, while walking toward Srebrenica, they survived two ambushes, where some people from the group were not so lucky. When they arrived in Srebrenica, they lived in the house of a relative for a short period and later moved to another apartment. Suljic remembers always looking for food.
While people were sleeping, I saw Serb soldiers separating the men and taking them away from their families
From July 6 to July 12, 1995, Srebrenica suffered a string of attacks by the Bosnian Serb Army and Serbian paramilitaries, who had been trying to conquer it since 1992.
The scenario from three years before was repeated. To survive, they went along with others to a former battery factory, where the UN base held by Dutch battalion soldiers was located, to seek protection. Suljic’s father went across the woods to reach free territory. He knew if he stayed with the family, they would have no chance of surviving.
Inside and outside the battery factory, there were thousands of people who came seeking protection. It became obvious that the Dutch soldiers did not know what to do with them. “In those moments, fierce battles were being fought around us, everyone was scared,” Suljic said. “While people were sleeping, I saw Serb soldiers separating the men and taking them away from their families.”
Qatar Foundation did not only enrich my academic learning, but also taught life lessons that have been incredibly rewarding
Suljic remembers hearing men screaming and asking for help every night. After three days, the buses arrived. “They said the women and children would be moved to Tuzla, a free territory controlled by the legal army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All males between the ages of 11 and 77 were told they must stay and wait to be picked up by another set of buses,” Suljic said. He was then led by his uncle, who was later forcibly separated from his family by Serbian soldiers.
Suljic got on the bus in hope that he would meet his loved ones again in Tuzla. As he travelled to Tuzla, he watched the captured men being taken to be shot. Among them, he saw his neighbors, with whom he had played before the war. “They looked so scared”.
Suljic and his family arrived in Tuzla, where they lived in a refugee camp. After that they were moved to a village not too far away. In those days, he did not know what happened to his father, uncles, and other relatives. After seven days of crossing through Serbian lines and ambushes, his father had managed to survive, but most other relatives did not. A couple of years ago, he and his family received a phone call telling them that the bodies of his uncles were found in mass graves.
We must all remain vigilant against these forces, and take positive action to build stronger, more resilient communities
By July 11, 1995, Suljic’s world had changed. Within a few days, he had lost so many relatives. His became known as “The Lost Generation”, young children with no dreams and little prospects. During the war, his childhood was focused on one thing only — survival.
Bosnia’s dark period left a generation of young people traumatized by the horrors of war. Unfortunately, Suljic witnessed so many bad things – things one just cannot forget. But often there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In Qatar, he got his life back as well as his dreams that had been stolen from him.
As an international student who was given the opportunity to come to Qatar, and in a multicultural city like Doha, Suljic felt honored to be part of the diverse and colorful society.
After he earned his bachelor's degree from Qatar University, he took advantage of the opportunities in Qatar, and furthered his education at HBKU, where he completed his MA in Public Policy in Islam.
The time spent at HBKU was valuable in many ways. “Qatar Foundation did not only enrich my academic learning, but also taught life lessons that have been incredibly rewarding. Academics were challenging and interesting. The lectures were brilliant, and the outcome of those lectures were clearly shown at the end of each semester,” Suljic said.
QF has made him more independent, self-confident, professional, and goal oriented, he says. It is at QF where he experienced attending and handling many projects and events of international level. And public policy has always been of great interest to him because public policy studies are oriented toward concrete solutions to practical problems. Theory and evidence are used to design, implement, and evaluate policies to improve the living conditions of the citizens in the country and around the world.
The lesson from Srebrenica is that no society is immune to prejudice and intolerance. “We must all remain vigilant against these forces, and take positive action to build stronger, more resilient communities,” Suljic said.
Vahid Suljic is the founder of Qatar’s largest student platform called Campus & Student Life in Qatar (@Students_Qatar) and currently works for Qatar Foundation.