Dzidza's story: years of torment waiting to learn the fate of her entire family

29-02-2008 Feature

More than 12 years after the war in Bosnia ended, some 16,000 people* are still unaccounted for, leaving their surviving relatives in a state of permanent anguish. Journalist Nick Danziger describes the pain of Dzidza, whose family disappeared in the 1995 Srebrenica massacres.

© Nick Danziger / nb pictures for ICRC    
  Dzidza returned home after many years as a displaced person. Initially she had to get a family who were squatting her home to leave.    


© Nick Danziger / nb pictures for ICRC    
  ICMP files with DNA information from missing persons remains to try and match them with living family members who have given a blood sample.    


© Nick Danziger / nb pictures for ICRC    
  The ICRC's 'Book of Belongings' contains the personal items (clothing and belongings) of people executed that have been retrieved and photographed in the hope that family members might be able to identify a missing relative.    
© Nick Danziger / nb pictures for ICRC / v-p-ba-e-00073    
  Potocari, near Srebrenica. Dzidza regularly visits the memorial to over 8,000 killed at Srebrenica.    

For 12 years Dzidza lived in hope of finding her two sons and husband alive after they went missing, but were presumed dead, as a result of the killings at Srebrenica, Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.

Until recently, Dzidza used the present tense, " I have two sons " . The older one was in high school, the younger one was just about to finish elementary school. And then the war happened and they weren't able to finish their education.

 Book of Belongings  

Before DNA testing was available as a means of identifying the skeletal remains of those buried in mass graves, there was only the " Book of Belongings " , two photo albums published by the ICRC showing items found with the remains of the dead.

"The biggest joy is to have a child, the biggest tragedy is to have him taken away."

In 2001 Dzidza leafed through every page of the two large albums. " I went through it, one photograph after another, and I prayed to God not to recognize anything, even though I wanted to know at least something – to end this uncertainty, " she says.

Some families were able to identify missing relatives through the ICRC's book, but thousands of bodies exh umed from mass graves remained unidentifiable and thousands more lay buried in mass or individual graves.

 DNA technology brings new hope – and scepticism  

When DNA became a method of matching a living relative's blood sample to one taken from a recovered bone, some like Dzidza either remained sceptical or did not want to confront reality, saying: " For quite some time I didn't want to give blood. I didn't want to believe they were dead. "


In early 2005, nearly 10 years after the massacre, she gave a blood sample to the ICMP (International Commission on Missing Persons), because a neighbour talked her into it. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law did the same, hoping they might eventually identify her husband.

On 13 November 2007 Dzidza received a phone call from Emir, her case worker. " I told him to cut the small talk, to get straight to the point. Have you identified my children and husband? It was the most difficult moment of my life, " she recalls.


" He told me that they had identified one of my sons, but they couldn't tell me which one because they were too close in age (Almir was born in 1977, Azmir in 1974). He also told me that they had identified my husband, Abdullah, through a single bone, the only one they have recovered of his from a large mass grave.


" As this possibility opened up to me everything went black; I thought I had lost my mind for a couple of moments, " says Dzidza.

Dzidza's sleep is always disturbed and she takes no pleasure in eating. During the day, to pass the time, she works on embroidery and at night she reads the Koran, mainly the Shura Yassin, which deals with death and which she has now learnt by heart.

She sums up her grief: " The biggest joy is to have a child, the biggest tragedy is to have him taken away. " She says many more members of her family were also killed.


"Even though my child's remains are complete, how can I bury him not knowing which one it is?!"

 Memorial to over 8,000 killed at Srebrenica  

Dzidza regularly visits the site in Potocari, near Srebrenica, where a memorial has been built to more than eight thousand people who were killed and where one of her brothers is buried. " It is important not just for me but for all the other mothers that there is a memorial, " she insists. " Even though my child's remains are complete, how can I bury him not knowing which one it is?! "

" There is not enough of my husband to bury. It is a crime upon a crime: first to have a child killed, then not even to get his bones. How many more mass graves need to be opened to find the rest of the bones? "

 Murders committed by 'friends'  


Equally difficult for Dzidza is that the murders were committed by people the y knew: " This was carried out by friends of my husband! In peace-time we had very close Serb friends; they never warned us to leave and we could not imagine that this was going to happen. "

Today, Dzidza lives beyond grief and has cried all the tears that is humanly possible. She exists on her memories, her loved ones'voices ringing in her head, dreaming only of bringing peace to the souls of Abdullah, Almir and Azmir.

See also TV News Footage .

* according to the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP)