Bosnian war refugee receives proof of death
Her father died in 1995 massacre by Serbians, researchers tell family
GRETEL C. KOVACH
A prick of her finger and a strand of DNA gave Medina Omerovic and her family the answer they had long waited for, and dreaded. Ms. Omerovic and her husband, Enes Omerovic, both lost their fathers more than a decade ago during the Bosnian war.
With their homeland in tatters, they settled in Grand Prairie to raise their two daughters. Even after all these years, Ms. Omerovic, 32, could not bring herself to believe that her father was dead. Now she knows.
Representatives of the International Commission on Missing Persons, a Sarajevo-based intergovernmental group, visited Dallas in December during a U.S. tour to collect blood samples from Bosnian war refugees. The group uses DNA analysis and forensic anthropology to identify remains from mass graves.
A couple of months after their visit, Ms. Omerovic learned what she had long feared. Her father, Omer Mehmedovic, and his brothers were among 8,000 Bosniak men massacred in 1995 by Serbian forces in Srebrenica.
The Sarajevo researchers first told her mother, who still lives in the country now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina, that his remains had been in storage since 2004.
“Now she’s too much depressed. She always think he’s still alive,” Ms. Omerovic said, struggling to express herself in English.
“My father had been very nice with everybody,” she said. “I never knew what is Christian, what is Muslim before the war come. Everybody lived together. “Now I know he’s really dead.”
The Sarajevo group has found matches for 94 individuals so far because of the U.S. trip, and more are expected.
“Many know that their missing loved ones must be dead, but there are different levels of ‘knowing,’ ” Doune Porter, head of communications for the Sarajevo group, said in an e-mail.
“Only when the body is found and identified do they realize that they had still been unable fully to accept the fact of death. This is what makes the uncertainty about the fate of missing loved ones such a terrible trial.”
Even now, Ms. Omerovic cannot lay her father to rest. Not all his bones have been located, and her family wants to wait before they hold a funeral. One of her three uncles who disappeared with her father is still missing.
The perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre used heavy machinery to excavate the mass graves and rebury them in other locations, apparently to hide the evidence, Ms. Porter said.
Often the bones of one person were scattered among multiple graves, which has slowed the identification process.
Last year, the Sarajevo group established the Lukavac Re-association Center, where staff members sort the remains so that they may be returned to their relatives. Mr. Omerovic, whose father, Osman Omerovic, was last seen in Vlasenca in 1992, is still waiting for the Sarajevo group to find him. He believes they’ll be making funeral arrangements soon.
“It’s the last time I’m going to say goodbye,” he said.
When the time comes, Ms. Omerovic said, her father’s final burial will be in Srebrenica, not his hometown.
“All these people who died, everybody came together,” she said. “They will stay together.”
Related: Photos of Srebrenica mass graves excavations http://www.srebrenica2005.org/index.php?page=images