The Dželil Family



Alija and Gina Dželil, mid-1980s

“In 2002, they find mass graves and they find my husband’s documents: bank card and other documents….But they didn’t know which is which, you know, bones . . . two years after that, in 2005, they finally have identification and they call me.  I was at work, in school, and they just called me . . .” – Izeta Dželil, 2016

Click here for the transcription of this audio clip.


In an effort to conceal the scale of the atrocity, Bosnian Serb forces moved the mass graves of their victims to secondary and sometimes tertiary sites to hide the evidence.  As a result, the process to identify victims’ remains has been a long process, one that is still going on today.  Many families in Bosnia and throughout the diaspora still await news of their loved ones.

In April 1992, Izeta Dželil lived with her husband Alija and children in Foča in southeastern Bosnia when Serbian forces took control and forced them to flee their home. Following their arrival to a place of shelter in Montenegro, Alija traveled back to their hometown to check on his parents.  He never returned.  From Montenegro to Germany and to places in between, Izeta and her children lived as refugees before settling permanently in Bowling Green.  For years Izeta worked through various international channels, including the Red Cross, searching for word on her husband.  In 2005, it was confirmed through DNA testing that Alija, who had been captured and imprisoned, was killed and deposited in a mass grave outside of their hometown of Foča.

Izeta reflects,

“. . . it’s not just my husband, it’s thousands of people, same thing…..I still, I have family, my cousin in Atlanta, she’s still looking for [her] brother who [was] never found.  It’s like a very strange feeling, so many mothers, so many sisters looking for family members, and when you find somebody’s bones and you have identification you feel like you’re kind of lucky, but you’re not lucky.  It’s so sad…. They didn’t just kill them.  They didn’t tell us where they killed them.”

Letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross


International Committee of the Red Cross Response Letter.  For nearly 14 years, Izeta Dželil continued to write and call local and international authorities to try to find out news about her husband. This letter was written nearly 10 years before his death was finally confirmed.

Article identifying Alija Dželil’s remains among many others found in mass grave:


For many families missing loved ones, these newspaper articles are often their first source of news when remains are identified in mass graves.  Izeta Dželil’s family, like many others, would scour articles like these in the hopes that they might provide much needed answers.  In this particular news clipping, Alija Dželil was finally identified in a mass grave, alongside many others.

Alija Dželil Obituary


Public obituary for Alija Dželil citing the date he went missing, the date his remains were found, and the names of other victims also located in this mass gravesite. Green-bordered notices like this one  continue to be a common public means to share loss.

Alija Dželil‘s Belongings


Family Photos

Alija Dželil (right) during a fishing excursion.  Fishing was a favorite pastime of Alija’s, his way to enjoy ćejf.  In the photo, Alija wears the watch that was later found in a mass grave with his other belongings.