More than 100,000 people have been killed in almost four years of war, including at least 30 members of his extended family.
But this week, the 25e anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, she thinks specifically of her father Sulejman Hodzic and keeps her memory alive.
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Fortunately, Mirela had escaped months ago with her mother and brother in Turkey. But Serb forces prevented any man from leaving and his father, who was almost 27, had to stay.
When it became clear that Srebrenica was on the verge of falling, Mirela said that her father tried to escape – along with thousands of others.
“They were fleeing to the forest through the mountains,” she said, “and he was part of a small group, but he was killed just before he reached safe territory.”
She said that the only survivor in this group told her family what had happened, but after returning to Bosnia in 1996, she still hoped that her father would have survived.
“And when I went to sleep at night, I actually imagined the scene of his return,” she said. “I think my mom knew he would never come back, but she never wanted to tell us. ”
It was not until 2004 that his death was confirmed, after the discovery of his remains in a forest. By that time, the surviving Hodzics had emigrated to Canada and started a new life. Because Mirela was the only one in her family who spoke English, it was up to her to tell her story to immigration officials. She was only 12 years old.
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“Well, it was really, really difficult,” she said, “but Canada has given us the opportunity to change our destiny, and we have definitely changed it.”
Veteran describes haunting memories of UN mission in Bosnia
The war started after the fall of communism in the former Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Serbs, who were supported by neighboring Serbia, attacked the newly created Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 by besieging the city of Sarajevo.
It was only after the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 that air strikes and UN sanctions helped to end the conflict.
Stephen Saideman, co-host of the Canadian Global Affairs podcast Battle pace, said the UN had the resources to end the conflict sooner, but was unwilling to engage anything other than lightly armed Dutch troops, who replaced Canadian peacekeepers in 1994.
“I think Canada felt guilt, just like any other country, because we let the genocide happen before us,” he said.
Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic convicted of genocide and sentenced to life
In the years following the war, a United Nations court in The Hague found 62 men guilty of war crimes. Ratko Mladic, head of the Bosnian Serb forces, and political leader Radovan Karadzic were among those convicted of the crime of genocide.
But many more people involved in the massacre are still free and will likely never see the interior of a courtroom, which adds to the lingering tension in an already unstable area.
“Maybe Ratko Mladic, the military chief and Karadzic the political chief went to The Hague and (former Serbian president) Slobodan Milosovic is dead,” Saideman said. “But the people behind them, the people under them are still there, and that’s not all the math.”
A number of refugees from Srebrenica settled in Windsor, Ontario, where MP Brian Masse became interested in their stories. He had a monument installed in a Windsor park earlier this year to commemorate the massacre.
In 2010, he introduced a motion that was passed in the House of Commons to recognize July 11 as Remembrance Day of Srebrenica in Canada. Shortly after, he visited the area and was shaken by the stories he heard and the mass graves he visited.
“I went there feeling guilty, all I could do was pass a word motion that, you know, lasted a few sentences,” he said. “But it was so important to them that it meant the world to them. And it also meant that they weren’t alone and that being alone was the worst thing. “
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