Author: Nina Berman
(re-published with permission from the author)
I’ve been scanning old pictures from late 1992 and early 1993 of women and girls who were raped in the Bosnian war which means they were personally, brutally, and sadistically attacked, violated, terrified and humiliated for no reason, simply because they were women and Muslim, sometimes just once, in one case for 10 weeks. I wasn’t a very skilled photographer then. I didn’t think much about constructing a picture. After the fact, I felt terrible that the pictures were photographic failures and I hadn’t done these subjects justice. Now I just want to look at them. Holding the scratched transparencies and reading my notes, brings me back to those women and the process of finding them, which is maybe the most important part of this kind of work, the getting to the photograph. For those interested, here are stories from some of the women I met.
All photographs (C) Nina Berman 1992-1993. For imaging licensing and to view more photographs, visit the NOOR Images archive.
18 year old Muslim [Bosniak] woman, Tuzla hospital, January 1, 1993
“It was June 30. I was in Belgrade a the bus station. I had been in Belgrade for close to two months, staying at my cousin’s house while my mother was in the hospital undergoing surgery for breast cancer. I was on my way back to Tuzla [in Bosnia] but I didn’t know that the roads had been closed because of the war. So I was just waiting at the station when two soldiers came up to me.
First they asked me for a cigarette, then they grabbed me, showed me their guns, told me to shut up or they would kill me and they forced me into a car. They told me to keep my head down and not to look out the windows. I was sure I was going to die. We drove like this for two hours until we reached a village. I had no idea where I was. They took me into some basement room and gave me half a piece of bread and a little meat, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to eat anything. After about an hour, they took me from this place, put me back in the car and drove to some other village. There were a lot of soldiers outside but I didn’t know who they were or where I was. Again, they took me into a kind of basement room that had a bed and a small table. I went two days without food or water or anything. On the third day, a soldier came in and asked me if I was hungry and he gave me a sandwich and some water. I got the feeling he wanted to help me. I stayed in this place four days. Nobody did anything to me. After four days they took me into another building and I heard a soldier say they were going to bring me to Pale. (The administrative headquarters of the Bosnian Serb forces)
Soon after that, they brought me outside to a car that had Sarajevo registration on it. They put me in the car and blindfolded me. We drove for a while until we got to some barracks where other prisoners were. We went past the barracks and into this room which was fairly big, it looked like it had once been an office. They told me to lie down by the door and not to say anything. There were four other girls about my age in the room as well, but we didn’t talk.
Then four soldiers cam in and told me to take my clothes off. I didn’t want to and the soldier said he would go out and by the time he got back, I should be undressed. The four other soldiers who had been with these girls left and I went out in the hallway to go to the bathroom. No one was around so I just went and on my way back I met this soldier in the hall. He hit me and yelled at me because I hadn’t asked permission to use the bathroom. So I went back into the room and the four girls asked me why I hadn’t taken my clothes off because if I didn’t, the soldiers would kill me. That was the only time I spoke with these girls. I still have no idea who they were or where they were from. The soldier never came back in the room that day and the girls left.
The next thing that happened was another four girls came into the room with four soldiers and they told me to leave. They put me in another room and some soldiers came in. The first ordered me to take off my clothes. I said I didn’t want to but he just took them off himself. Three other soldiers were in the room and one of them held my legs while another cut me with a razor. The one who took my clothes off burned my mouth with cigarettes and then raped me while the other three watched. I was sure they all intended to take their turn, but after the second one raped me and the third one was preparing, the first two soldiers said to him not to bother because I was no good, I was just a peasant. And so I was spared.
I was then taken to a large room with mostly old people in it. I saw one man with a piece of flesh cut out of his arm and he was telling a soldier “Please don’t put salt on it because it hurts.”
I stayed there a little while and then they brought me back to the other room. I heard them say they were thinking about putting me in yet another room and it I was to go there I would have been the 176th girl in that room. But nothing happened and I pretty much spent 10 days alone except for one day when a girl from Bratunac came in, but she left the same night, and then the last day when four girls came in. After they left, I was raped again. I tried to defend myself but I couldn’t. They took my clothes, they hit me, they were pulling my hair. A few days later, six soldiers came in and all of them raped me. They cursed me, insulted me, said there were too many Muslim people and said a lot of Muslims [Bosniaks] were going to give birth to Serbian children.
Four more days passed and no one touched me. They fed me a sandwich each day and that’s all. I asked if I could bathe and they said yes but only with cold water. After five days another soldier came in and raped me. And that evening, two very drunk and dirty soldiers raped me very badly. They had guns and knives and were very rough. Three days passed, another two soldiers raped me, this time in front of four others. I got sick and was vomiting and they said I was worthless and they should just kill me. It was the 16th time I was raped. After that, no one touched me again.
A few days later, I heard there was going to be a prisoner exchange but I didn’t know I would be part of it until I was put on a truck with about 30 to 40 other people – all men – and we were taken to Visoko and they exchanged us for flour.
I met four other girls in the refugee place in Visoko. They had been in another prison. One of them was pregnant. They said the soldiers burned them with hot metal bars and they had to stay naked all the time. Some people from Visoko took these girls and other refugees and they asked me if I wanted to go too, but I didn’t.
Two weeks later I was transported to Zivinice. I arrived there September 20. And when October and November passed and I didn’t get my period, my sister, who is the only other person I have told all this to, took me to a Tuzla hospital and they told me I was pregnant and could still get an abortion if I wanted. If I would not have been able to get an abortion, I would have killed myself. I told this to my doctor. I wasn’t going to give birth to this baby. I never want my parents to know about this. I also have a boyfriend, but I can’t tell him. I’m so afraid of what people would think of me and say about me. I know I can’t keep this inside me forever.”
Brcko survivors living in a former school turned refugee center, Tuzla, January 3, 1993
Mirela 23 and Senada Rizvanovic, 17 and Sabina Rizvanovic,16, all seized from their village near Brcko
“It was Tuesday, June 16. All the men from 16 years old and up except for the very old were told to go into a gymnasium for a meeting. We knew that if they stayed in that gymnasium overnight they would be taken by bus to Luka, a concentration camp in Brcko. So all the women from the village went running to the gymnasium to try to get inside. There were 40 Serbs guarding the gym. Our fathers and brothers were inside. I never thought much about Croatian, Bosniak, Serb. And I had these two friends, and one of them was one of those who rounded up my brother. I said to him, ‘I will find you one day if I stay alive and you too, after this war, and I will kill you. I swear to God I will kill you.’ And he said not to worry that everything was going to be OK. They are just going to be questioned to see who is guilty and who is innocent. But we know what was going to happen and we were screaming and crying and begging them to let everyone go.
They led them into buses. We tried to stop them. We layed down in front of the buses but we couldn’t do anything. We went back to our homes and after about an hour, the Chetniks [Serb soldiers] came into the village and went from house to house and told us to pack our bags and go the gymnasium. They put us on 11 buses. It was just women and children and old people. We drove on the road towards Orasje to what looked like a Serb military base. We stayed there five nights. We got nothing to eat or drink and we slept on stone. Then they put us back into the buses and we headed back south along the road. We thought we were going back to Brcko. They gave us some water on the bus but it had something in it because we all got sick with headaches and stomach aches. And they kept giving us more water. One woman gave birth to a baby on the bus.
We got to Zabrde on June 22. They brought us into what used to be a furniture shop. There were about 14 of us. They took our things, our jewelry, anything we had. We felt like we were sheep with wolves surrounding us. They kept us in the shop and took our mothers outside. We heard shelling and then saw them leading our mothers away on foot. That night, one by one Chetniks came in to taht show and said, ‘You with the red jumper, come. You with the black hair, over here.’ And they took us one by one into empty houses in the village and raped us.”
Senada “He took me to one very old house and told me to clean the house and he would come back in 15 minutes. When he came back he asked me why I hadn’t cleaned the bed. I didn’t know who the man was. He wasn’t one of the ones from Brcko. He was big with dark hair and older. He told me to take my clothes off and I started crying. And he said, ‘it’s better just one man. I can call to all units and it could be 15 or 20 men. ‘
He said his name was Misha. He started telling me his life story. He said he had to rape Muslim [Bosniak] women because Muslims [Bosniaks] were raping Serb women [this was a classic Serbian war propaganda used to incite Serb people to commit mass rapes against the targeted group - the Bosniaks]. And he said he joined up to fight to take revenge. He raped me the whole night. I had been a virgin. He took me back to the shop in the morning and all the girls were there except one. A soldier came in and said he had married her. The girl came from Brcko. She was our friend. A very close friend. We have never seen her again.”
Muhamed Klipic, 21 from Prijedor, Bosnia with his mother Adila
Following the Serb attack on Prijedor, Klipic was taken to the Keraterm concentration camp where he witnessed Serb forces rape a young Bosnian Muslim [Bosniak] girl, and was forced, he said, along with other prisoners, to rape the same girll.
“I was in a camp 3 months and 10 days in Keraterm. They beat me on my face and my hands. I was standing in the corner. They had guns pointed at me. They brought in a 12-year-old boy, a Serbian child. He beat me with an iron bar. Two or three days they beat me. They also brought in a girl, a Muslim (Bosniak) girl. They forced me to rape her.
First they raped her and then we had to rape her. ” Klipic was let out of the camp after his father and mother signed over their house and their family’s land to the Serb occupiers. They then fled after being threatened with death by their neighbor. Tadic. Adila said her son has lost his mind and has regressed back to a small child. Photographed at a refugee center in Posusje, Bosnia December 26, 1992.
A survivor from Kotor Varos
Zijada Caus, 27, gives testimony on December 29, 1992 at the Bosnian War Crimes Commission office in Zenica, accusing Serb commander Zdravko Krsic, of raping when Serbs took control of her town of Kotor Varos on July 15, 1992. She and her family were forced to flee to Zenica.