"Two Writers and Hundreds of Stories,” an event co-hosted by the Houston Bosnian Community and the Houston-based Gülen Institute this week, proved to be a memorable event that brought together survivors and confronted the painful memories of the Bosnian war.
Bosnian writers Dr. Esad boskailo and Ahmet Rahmanovic visited Houston and Austin, Texas, for three days and three events. In each city, they presented their books, Dr. Boskailo's “Wounded I Am More Awake” and Rahmanovic's “Black Soul.” The books describe the Bosnian war, concentration camps and refugee issues, including resettlement in the US.
At the first conference in Houston, at the Bosnian Cultural Center, they shared their memories, experiences, ideas, sorrows and hopes with the audience of over 100 people. Dr. Boskailo told the audience he spent almost one year in six concentration camps and moved among them 10 different times. He described many horrendous situations. One example he gave was about being confined for three days in an airless metal hangar in July with hundreds of fellow prisoners. The Serbian guards withheld any water or food, and only removed people to beat them. After three days, many of them lost consciousness. As a result of pressure from international organizations, the guards began giving the prisoners water and food again. The other example cited was that among the prisoners, one brave man began to sing a traditional, emotional song, “Mejra.” At first his friends, fearful of the guards' response, urged him to stop singing. He simply continued because at that point he didn't care about dying. Little by little, his friends joined in, and soon all 700 of them were singing as one. Even though the guards threatened them, they kept singing. The guards never tortured them to that extent again.
Mr. Rahmanovic recounted the moving story of trying to convince his wife, who had already left Sarajevo with their two young children, to continue on to safety in the Netherlands. Even though she was relatively secure in Zagreb, she returned to Sarajevo with the children. She explained, “I would rather live or die here all together.” After Mr. Rahmanovic's story, Dr. Boskailo pointed at his wife, who was present, and said he had had the same experience with her. Everyone applauded her.
Houston Bosnian Community President Sacir Silic thanked the authors for coming to the center and sharing their stories. He encouraged the audience to thank and support the authors by purchasing their books.
Then, they went to the Houston Turkish Turquoise Center and gave a presentation in the Ottoman Ballroom.
At the Turquoise Center, Dr. Boskailo and Mr. Rahmanovic were joined by Dr. Said Yavuz, Director of Academic Affairs at the Gülen Institute, who gave the opening address. He shared his teenage memories of the horrors he witnessed on TV of the Sarajevo marketplace massacre. He mentioned that he wishes we could learn today how to live peacefully the way our ancestors did for 500 hundred years in Ottoman times.
Memic: Forgive but don't forget!
Azeri composer and singer Dr. Ziraddin Taghiyev, from Austin, and fellow Austinite Senad Memic, a concentration camp survivor, poet and singer, took the stage for a performance of “Da mlad Ostanem” (Be young forever). It is a poem Memic wrote that Dr. Taghiyev set to music. Their song took the audience to a more spiritual realm.
Then, Senad Memic shared his memories until it became too painful for him to continue: “In 1992, on May 21, I was beat up by Serbian soldiers, and they put me in the sports building, first in Sanski Most city where they collected all the people. During that time in the sports building, they didn't give us any food, but we were lucky -- we had some relatives, and they brought food for us. After few days, they decided to take us to the real concentration camp. They didn't like our relatives to give us food, water, anything. They put us in the truck. We thought we could get comfortable in a seat, but they were beating people from at the entrance into the truck. We had to be like sardines in the can. The day was so hot. They closed the truck. We didn't have air, water. Twenty-six of us passed away. I was so close to being the 27th. I'm sorry. So, to make this short, I just want to say it was so terrible. We learned many lessons. The most important thing to remember is to forgive but don't forget!”
Some audience members were moved to tears by his story.
During the panel discussion, Imam Mustafa Yiğit of the Houston Blue Mosque read the Quran and provided an explanation of the text.
Dr. Boskailo was very happy with his Texas experience. “Being so warmly accepted by the communities in Houston and Austin was very helpful for me,” he stated. “I'm very lucky to have a community because you heal better when you have a community to share with.”
It was a matchless, memorable event. Everybody was impressed!