“10 soldiers came into my home who had previously burned down my grandparents’ house while they were inside with my 3-year-old sister. They ordered that I go with them, and they took me to my high school. I wasn’t even 18 years old, and I had never been intimate with a man until that time. That night, they took me into the basement of the school and threw me to the floor. I couldn’t see their faces. I prayed and begged for them to stop, but nothing helped. I lost consciousness. I woke up in a classroom and felt nothing but emptiness inside. I was held in that school for a month and a half. I thought I would never be free again. They continued to come and take advantage of me during the night. When I was released and reunited with my family, I was told that they had also killed my father and brother.”
“They say that the life of every person is unique and precious. They hurt me and today I don’t see my life as valuable anymore. The horrific past of my youth is my only reality. It is a fight to keep going each day. The fight for existence becomes even harder under the veil of the scars that will not heal. 20 years ago I dreamed of a happy life. Today I have nightmares, covered in the blood of my loved ones. My light at the end of the tunnel is shut down by tears, and my voice of hope is muted by the gunshots I hear with every beat of my tired heart.”
This exhibition tells the story of a broken youthful dream, a lost look through empty eyes, and a woman recovering from the wounds of the past while dealing with the reality of the present. 40-year-old Hasija serves as the inspiration. At the age of eighteen during the Bosnian war, she was forced to endure the horrors of rape and sexual violence while being detained in what was once her high school. Each image, captured by photographer Velija Hasanbegović, documents Hasija’s journey back to the place that changed her life forever and the life that is now her reality. They depict the ongoing struggles that she must face as a result of her experiences.
Returning to 1992 and the scene of a horrific crime was a big deal for them both, but the need to document and to tell the truth was important. Hasija once again summoned the courage to share her memories. For Velija, translating Hasija’s memories of these horrible crimes into photographs was an emotional and difficult task. He too carries vivid memories of the war that took place in the 1990s, but found inspiration in Hasija’s difficult life story.
The Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC) is proud to have made this successful cooperation possible. Velma Saric, Founder and Executive Director, met Velija in the summer of 2010 whilst documenting the search of survivors for their dead relatives, brothers and fathers near Višegrad at the bottom of the drained Lake Peručac. He now serves on PCRC’s local advisory board and acts as the organization’s main local photographer. Hasija has been closely involved with PCRC’s work since 2012, and was central to the British Embassy in Sarajevo and PCRC’s launch of the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict across Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 2014.
This article was originally published on Balkan Diskurs. A non-profit, multimedia platform dedicated to to challenging stereotypes and providing viewpoints on society, culture, and politics in the Western Balkans.
Velija Hasanbegović, a survivor of the Višegrad genocide, was 16 years old when he escaped execution at the Višegrad Bridge in 1992. In April 2012, he was named ‘Photographer of the Year’ by the City of Sarajevo after receiving the cover of the London Financial Times Magazine for his photography contribution to Alec Russell’s article Unforgiven, unforgotten, unresolved: Bosnia 20 years on.
Velma Šarić is the Founder and Executive Director of the Post-Conflict Research Center. She has over 12 years of journalistic experience working for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. In addition, she has worked as a producer and consultant on a number of films, including “I Came to Testify” and “War Redefined” from PBS’ Women, War, and Peace TV series.