Bosnia&Herzegovina: 'Sarajevo roses' recall horrors of war

- Two decades after the siege of Sarajevo, the city struggles to preserve authentic reminders of mass killings.

by Arijana Avdibegovic

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AA) - On March 20, 1993, 11-year-old Irma Grabovica, was killed by Serbian shelling while playing in a street of the Bosnia & Herzegovina capital. 

A crater marked the place where the shell struck. After the war ended in 1995, these craters were painted red in honor of the blood spilled in these places. They were called 'Sarajevo roses.'

Fikret Grabovica, Irma's father, is today the president of the Association of Parents of Children Murdered in Besieged Sarajevo. Grabovica said to the parents of murdered children it is "very important" that these Sarajevo roses be preserved. 

"Significant is everything that can preserve the memory of innocent victims, and everything that can preserve the truth from oblivion. Sarajevo Roses mean a lot to the families of the victims and to all citizens who survived the killings," Grabovica insisted.

During the 1,425 day-siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army, an average of 329 shells struck the city each day, killing11,541 civilians, out of which 1,601 were children. At least 50,000 people were injured, according to the Union of civilian war victims in Sarajevo Canton. 

The siege left many Sarajevo Roses. 

-Preserving the memories of the siege

The siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army was the longest one in recorded human history. It left many scars on Sarajevans and on their city, but the Sarajevo Roses were not all preserved.

In the 20 years since the war, Sarajevo has been rebuilt. And the reconstruction filled in and covered up many of the Sarajevo Roses.

But families of the victims of the siege are mounting an effort to preserve the Sarajevo Roses so that the truth would be preserved from oblivion.

Nearly 200 citizens gathered in Bosnian capital of Sarajevo Thursday to mark the 21st anniversary of the massacre that happened in the street market called Markale on Feb. 5, 1994, when 68 civilians were killed while 144 were injured by shells fired from surrounding hills.

Gathered at Markale, people laid flowers on the remaining Sarajevo Rose. The one in the Markale market is one of few that has been preserved.

Melita Dokic whose 17-year old daughter Maja Dokic was killed on April 9, 1995, while returning home from basketball practice, met the AA team in the city center to show the place where there once  was a Sarajevo Rose. It has been covered by asphalt during the renovation of intersection.

"I feel sorrow that the traces of the killing of Sarajevo children are covered and very quickly forgotten," said Dokic adding that it would mean a lot to her if that 'rose' remained uncovered because every time she passes she looks at the place her daughter died.

-Terrible beauty

U.S. photographer and film director Roger M. Richards, 53, is making a film called "Sarajevo Roses." 

"These roses are a symbol of the city and its struggle to survive the siege and afterwards when all was destroyed," Richards said.

"In my film, they are a metaphor for the city, and the petals of these shell impacts mark the pavement like scars on the heart. A terrible beauty. The red is not only for the color of the flower but of the innocent blood spilled on Sarajevo's streets. The real roses are the people of Sarajevo, who continue to bloom. Roses still grow even in the middle of destruction," said Richards.

-Will 'roses' survive

Whether the 'roses' on the streets of Sarajevo will be preserved depends on the city's cultural agencies.

The Cantonal Institute for the Protection of the Cultural and Natural Heritage put the Sarajevo Roses on the list of authentic monuments from the period of the siege. The Department of Veterans Affairs of Sarajevo Canton has developed criteria for preserving them.

"The criteria for preserving the remaining roses is that in the place of the explosion at least three people were killed," said Osman Smajlovic, Assistant Minister for Veterans Protection.

He added that there were originally nearly 100 roses painted in the city, some of which were destroyed because of "negligence." The Ministry is currently working on the restoration of the12 remaining roses.

"The restoration of the 12 remaining roses in the city center should be completed by the end of 2015. They will be proposed for UNESCO's world heritage list," said Smajlovic.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of Yugoslavia until March 1992, when a majority of people voted in a referendum for independence. In May of the same year Serbs besieged its valley basin capital stationing tanks, mortars and snipers on all the surrounding hills. The siege was officially ended by the Dayton agreement between warring parties signed in Dayton, Ohio in Dec. 1995.

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