International student shares civil war experience
February 28, 2013
By Amy Perry
FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 28, 2013) -- While many Americans have been impacted by war due to family members or friends serving abroad, not many have experienced conflict in their own country, when neighbors become enemies.
Maj. Hajrudin Djedovic, a student attending the Combined Logistics Captain's Career Course here, is a member of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was born April 21, 1968, in the former country of Yugoslavia. The village of Cekanici, part of a larger area called Srebrenik, which is in the northeast part of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. Djedovic attended the noncommissioned officers academy after graduating high school at age 15 and became a sergeant in the Yugoslav People's Army in 1987.
In the early 1990s, several of the republics in Yugoslavia began declaring independence. Djedovic -- an aircraft mechanic -- was stationed in Pula (located in present day Croatia) at the time. Once a war for independence in Bosnia and Herzegovina broke out, he received orders to Tuzla, located in northeast Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"The former Yugoslavia army started moving out across the republics to stop them from getting independence," said Djedovic. "Once war escalated in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I broke my contract and joined the Bosnian army. I was a Bosnian. It was important for me to support my people as we gained independence."
In May 1992, he joined the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and although he was enlisted while in the Yugoslav army, he was made an officer due to his previous military experience. Djedovic first served as a platoon commander, but after his company commander was killed in battle a few months in, he was named company commander.
"I was very successful during my missions as company commander," he said, as he quickly saw a promotion to deputy battalion commander because of his actions. "I accomplished a lot of offensive missions, and I didn't have a lot of casualties during them. These missions showed my competency and skill at leading."
The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a battle between three factions -- the Bosnian Muslims, Croats (Catholic) and Serbs (predominately Orthodox Christian). Serbia and Croatia both border Bosnia and each faction wanted its part of the country. The Croats were part of the Croatian Defence Council and the Serbs were originally part of the former Yugoslavian army. After pressure from the international community, the former Yugoslavian army withdrew from Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, they supplied the Bosnian Serbs -- who became the Army of Republika Srpska -- with weapons to continue the offensive there, said Djedovic. Many of those from the former Yugoslavian army merely changed uniforms and patches to become the Army of Republika Srpska.
It was strange fighting against people he had served with only a few years earlier, he said. One day, they are neighbors and friends. The next day -- they attacked his village, killed his friends and members of his family.
"It was very strange, but it happened," he said.
More than just families and friends were destroyed, said Djedovic. In Mostar, a famous and historic town in the country, there was a bridge -- named Old Bridge or "Stari Most" -- that was built during the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.
"During the war, the enemy was afraid we would use the bridge to attack them, so they destroyed it," said Djedovic of the Croatian Defence Council. "They shot it down with artillery and it took them two days, but they took it down. It motivated us to react defensively because the bridge was very important. It had a lot of historical significance for us."
After the war finished, support from international countries helped rebuild the bridge.
A peace agreement was finally reached between the three factions with the Dayton Agreement in November 1995. The Croatian Defence Council and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina combined into the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Army of the Republika Srpska remained separate at that time. For several years, there were two armies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
While it was difficult to join forces, Djedovic said there were many who were respectable during the war.
"If you fight while respecting international conventions, such as the Geneva Convention, you can still respect the other army when you're finished," he said. "While in war, you must kill or you will be killed. A lot of people were honorable in the war. For example, if you have prisoners and you don't kill them or if you have civilians in your area of operation, you take care to avoid killing them. But if you kill civilians or prisoners, you must be punished after the war."
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was created in 1993 to prosecute crimes committed during the wars, and have so far indicted 161 and several trials are still ongoing.
In 2005, the Army of Republika Srpska and the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina became a joint military force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Djedovic said it's still hard to think about the past, but the future holds much promise.
"We have to get along now." he said. "We all live in the same country, but we have very different religions. If we respect our different religious views, we can make our country successful and develop prosperity.
"I'm optimistic and believe in a better future for our country," he said.