The Column and the “March of Death”
“We started moving at night, one by one in line. I wondered why we were moving in line one by one almost holding hands with the person ahead and behind you…” – Mehmed Alić, as shared with Senida Husić, 2015
On July 11th, 1995, thousands gathered, mostly men and boys, to flee from besieged Srebrenica. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Bosniaks formed a column and set out to escape the massacre by walking 70 miles across heavily wooded territory, controlled by Bosnian Serb forces, to safety in the northern city of Tuzla. A dangerous journey, this walk would come to be called the “March of Death.” The Column was shelled and attacked with weapons of all kinds, and very few of the men were armed. Of an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 who left Srebrenica with The Column, fewer than 6,000 reached Tuzla on July 16th. Over the following months, a few hundred more survivors eventually reached free territory.
Mehmed Alić’s Story
Mehmed Alić escaped as part of The Column, though his journey to safety lasted 82 days. Along the way, The Column was divided into smaller groups due, in part, to multiple ambushes. As Alić shares, there was little organization and no leader, so people who knew each other grouped together and headed in the direction they believed was the safest and fastest to Bosniak-controlled territory. During these 82 days, Alić and his traveling companions often didn’t know if they were headed in the right direction or just walking in circles.
They suffered through many hardships, including a lack of food and constant worry of being discovered and killed. In one particularly harrowing experience, Alić remembers stumbling upon a mass of murdered men and boys, their bodies left to decompose. At another point, he sustained an injury from a sniper shot. Thankfully, he finally made it to Kladanj, the Bosniak frontline, to safety. Alić now lives in Bowling Green and is an active member of the Bosnian American community, supporting young leaders and their efforts to organize events, such as the Walk to Remember Srebrenica.
Backpacks as a Symbol of the Column
“…When we were leaving . . . we turned around and there was like a whole pile of these backpacks, which is why when we did the march of peace here July 11th, we had the backpacks to kind of symbolize that. What they [Bosnian Serb forces] did is when they were leaving the buses, getting them [Bosniak men and boys] out of the buses, they told them to take off their backpacks. So they piled them up, and that was a sign that they were taking their personal things and just shooting them in a grave or something.” – Adisa Omerović Avdić, 2015
The backpacks collected for the Walk to Remember Srebrenica each year are collected to symbolize the lives lost during the Srebrenica Genocide. However, they also symbolize the men who had to make their escape as part of the Column with only what they could carry with them. Every year as part of the Walk to Remember Srebrenica, backpacks are again collect and donated to area schools as part of Tony Rose Morning Show on D93’s Stuff the Bus Drive. Read more about the Walk to Remember Srebrenica here.
Mehmed Alić at the 2016 Walk to Remember Srebrenica in Bowling Green. Photo by Mirnes Hajrić, 2016.