Travelling coffee-cup memorial for Srebrenica’s dead comes home

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A volunteer helps prepares the installation of some 8,000 traditional porcelain cups filled with Bosnian coffee at the Potocari-Srebrenica Memorial Centre for victims of the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces, in eastern Bosnia, July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) – More than 8,000 traditional Bosnian coffee cups are being set up in the town of Srebrenica as a memorial for each of the Muslim men and boys massacred there by Serb forces 25 years ago, many now buried in a nearby cemetery.

The porcelain cups are part of a “Where Have You Been” exhibit that a Bosnian-born American artist created in 2006 and took around the world before bringing them home to stay for the 25th anniversary of Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

“This is the place where they belong. They’re here to stay,” said Aida Sehovic, herself a refugee from Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

About 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up, taken away and slaughtered after nationalist Bosnian Serb forces stormed and seized Srebrenica, a mainly Muslim enclave that had been designated a U.N.-protected “safe area”, on July 11, 1995.

Their bodies were tossed into mass graves later exhumed by U.N. investigators and used as evidence in war crimes trials of Bosnian Serb leaders.

Sehovic launched her memorial exhibit in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo in 2006 with a donation of 923 cups from the Srebrenica women who lost their loved ones in the massacre.

She used traditional coffee cups and lyrics from old Bosnian folk song to illustrate the feelings of loss and remembrance that Muslims who escaped death in Srebrenica experience during their morning coffee-making ritual.

As volunteers were setting up the coffee-cup memorial in a meadow next to the Srebrenica memorial centre, a tearful man filled six of the fildzan – traditional cups – in tribute to six relatives he lost in the massacre.

In a nearby building were coffins containing the remains of nine newly identified massacre victims. They will be buried on Saturday, the anniversary, in an adjacent cemetery where tall white tombstones mark the graves of 6,643 other victims.

The remains of more than 1,000 others have not been found.

Sehovic has displayed the coffee cups annually on July 11 in the squares of cities across the United States and Europe. The exhibit has grown every year with more donations of cups from the Bosnian diaspora or passersby who helped augment the collection to over 8,000, matching the known number of victims.