Bosnian Genocide Survivor Journeys from America to Etch her Sarajevo Rose

Admira Sejfic organized and led the group of children carrying a banner with the names of all the victims of the Srebrenica genocide during the 20th Anniversary Commemoration of the Bosnian Genocide at Towne Hall in Seattle, Washington. Congressional Representative Jim McDermott commented on how moved he was to see the children carrying the names into the hall and onto the stage, a tribute to Admira’s leadership

Sarajevo’s Roses etched in asphalt are a stark and perpetual reminder of the indiscriminate shelling that took place in the city’s streets from 1992 to 1995. They serve as grave reminders of the longest military siege of a city in modern history. Sarajevo and its civilian casualties, victims of the Bosnian genocide, faced a brutal onslaught by neighbors who identify themselves as ethnic Serbs. These Serbs armed themselves to the teeth, and stood behind the tanks and heavy weaponry of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) while attacking Bosnia and Herzegovina. With military, political and financial backing from Serbia and Montenegro’s leadership, Bosnia’s Serbs were able to accelerate the genocide against their neighbors.

The unification of the Serbian people and leadership for the sole purpose and mission of making a greater and pure Serbia was declared by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as a joint criminal enterprise.  Bosnians who stood to prevent their nation from being torn apart, were forced to live through a war unlike anything they had ever seen before in their history: mass killing of family members, imprisonment and torture in concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and forced displacement, and the mass rape of women, children and men.

All of this was beyond the comprehension of ten-year-old Admira Sejfic. Admira was a bright, young child who wanted the war to be over so she could go back to her childhood fun activities and school.

Like many Bosnians, Admira and her father Hasim Sejfic had to risk movement through town, so they used their best judgement to estimate when and where it was relatively safer for them to go out. They tracked all the Serbian national holidays and religious ones too, as a basis for predicting some hopeful days when extremist Serbs would not shell or snipe at civilians who were out on the streets of Sarajevo to get groceries, visit family members or get wood for fire.

“Perhaps the Serbian militia would not shell on their holidays,” Admira remembers some members in her family being hopeful. On the basis of that kind of thinking, Admira and her father set out on some critical errands in the city the day after Orthodox Christmas, January 8, 1993. Everyone thought and prayed that days during and around Orthodox Christmas would be days of peace in Sarajevo, a city that had been under siege for more than 9 months, with little food or drinking water. Winters in Sarajevo can be harsh and cold, but during this siege, staying warm was hardly a priority in the face of snipers, grenades, and the indiscriminate targeting of innocent civilians.

“On that fateful day, Admira and her father went on a walk that, even to this day, her father cannot talk about. A shell was fired by one of the Serb militias, hitting a building directly across from where Admira and her father were walking. A small piece of shrapnel ricocheted off the building and impaled Admira in the head.

One can only imagine, what Admira’s father was thinking as he held his precious daughter paralyzed in his arms, bleeding profusely from the head. Today, when Admira and her father see news images of Syrian children being killed or injured with blood covering their faces and bodies, they relate to the horror they faced some 23 years earlier.

At first, the doctors in Sarajevo thought Admira’s case was hopeless. The hospitals were already filled beyond capacity with injured civilians, who had much better chances of survival than Admira. But because Admira was so young, the doctors took it upon themselves to try to save her. They operated on Admira, removing 2 millimeters of shrapnel, and did everything to not damage nearby sections of her brain or neuro-functions. Admira survived the surgery, but was paralyzed on her left side. Admira was later evacuated out of Sarajevo on a mercy mission. Over the next several years, she went through numerous surgeries and years of therapy in 3 different countries, to regain some control over her neuro-motor functions.

Today, Admira stands tall, a graceful figure exuding refinement and elegance, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide.  Admira talks about her experience and shares her story with many communities, churches, mosques, synagogues, schools and other institutions in the United States and Canada. Her story is moving and compelling, her presentation captivating.

Admira far left and VoBG members in a panel discussion at The Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) History of Bosnia & Herzegovina Exhibit, Lecture and Panel Discussion

Admira joined Voices of Bosnian Genocide (VoBG) in 2012 as a Trustee, and she has been an active member ever since. Admira has helped VoBG develop its mission to raise awareness about the Bosnian genocide and the effects of hatred and intolerance on all of humanity.

Admira with VoBG board members receiving City of Seattle Proclamation, in Observance of the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Genocide

During her presentations Admira explains that her injury was so traumatizing, she doesn’t remember the drive to the hospital. But she remembers that she woke up among Sarajevo’s wounded victims, amidst cries for help and screams of pain. Anesthesia, pain medication and other vital medical supplies were either in short supply or had run out, and could not be replenished due to a total blockade of the city by Serb forces. Sarajevo’s hospitals and patients had to make do.

Admira with some VoBG members delivered an award to Fikret Hodzic in Portland, Oregon, for raising awareness about Srebrenica and the Bosnian genocide. Fikret is the host of a very popular Bosnian TV show and the author of “And I too am from Srebrenica”.

Admira remembers Serbian military and paramilitary bombing her hospital, not unlike Syrian hospitals being bombed today. She remembers cold nights in the hospital basement, with no electricity or heating. She would often awaken to see dead bodies being moved down the hallway to her room. She remembers the doctors saying that she needed to be moved to better facilities, and how it was a miracle that she survived.

Today if you see Admira, she will jokingly tell you the A in her name is for “Admire.” She turned out to be a very successful and accomplished individual. In spite of the effects of shrapnel and the resultant paralysis in her left arm and her entire left side, Admira received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from a highly-accredited university in US and is currently working at a local school district as a counselor. Admira has a beautiful family and lives in a supportive community that values and praises her commitment to the community and its institutions. Her lectures with VoBG and her role on the organization’s Board of Trustees leave a lasting impression and impact.

Admira reminds us that the Bosnian genocide was not only about eliminating the Bosnian people, but also about eradicating their culture, traditions and identity. That is why Admira volunteers in many projects that work on reversing the effects of the Bosnian genocide. When VoBG Board members heard about the Sarajevo Rose initiative, they unanimously declared their support to help Admira get her rose etched in Sarajevo. Admira was overwhelmed with emotion and like she states in her own words, “VoBG is the wind under my wing.”

Later this month, Admira will go back to her native land and hometown to place a plaque that marks her Rose. Because the shell that injured Admira hit the side of a building, the impression of its impact will not be etched as other Sarajevo Roses that hit the streets or sidewalks. Instead, a plaque will mark the spot where Admira was injured. Admira says this memorial is not just for herself; she emphasizes that it is for all Sarajevo and future generations, in the hope that no child goes through her traumatic experience in Sarajevo or anywhere else in the world. During her visit, Admira will deliver a donation to The Sarajevo Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995.

The VoBG Board, along with other community members, want to thank all of the officials in Sarajevo who helped us to get the plaque engraved and mounted to memorialize Admira’s Sarajevo Rose. Thanks to all Bosnian media and other outlets who have helped raise awareness about this important milestone in the journey to bring closure to a life-altering trauma of a survivor of the Bosnian genocide.

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