This post is part of our Peacemaker in Action Nominee Profile Series, featuring Mirsada Tursunović from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
War and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) inhabit an all too recent past for many women living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it’s unlikely that these experiences have ceased to haunt their present and future. The Yugoslav wars, which unfolded in the 1990s, are widely known for their instances of ethnic cleansing, horrors which were allowed to persist in part thanks to UN inaction. What rarely surfaces in discussions dominated by NATO, the UN, Slobodan Milosevic, and Bill Clinton, are the stories of human damage on an individual level. Mirsada Tursunović, a woman of Bosnia, of Islam, and of great courage, has set out to provide the survivors of these atrocities, especially women, with the space in which they may finally express themselves.
Tursunović still lives in the town where she was assaulted and threatened not to speak out. In an act of resilience, she did ultimately make her story public. Those who know her say that Tursunović is determined to build a broader understanding in the public sphere of what happened during the war. It is, in essence, a search for truth. She recognizes the stories of CRSV survivors as an integral part of this project, though, as many societies have come to better understand, they are not so easily shared. For this reason, Tursunović organized the NGO Nas Glas (“Our Voice”).
Our Voice works to organize survivors of sexual violence and shed light on their stories. In many cases, this project of sharing and recognition clashes with popular understandings of the war. Beyond its role as a truth-seeker, the organization also provides women with post-traumatic services, connecting these survivors with psychological treatment, social aid, and free legal counsel. Tursunović has remained insistent on providing critical services to all women, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or language spoken. An important cultural aim of these initiatives, which Tursunović continues to run on a local and regional level around Tuzla Canton, is to chip away at a stigma that often weighs on survivors. This means that much of her organization’s work is aimed not only at amplifying the stories of survivors but patching together an increasingly extensive network of those willing to share. In surmounting the stigmas and threats which originate from various groups and perpetrators, solidarity is vital.
Tursunović places Islam’s teachings of peace and tolerance at the center of her work. Fortunately, she has been able to rely on the Islamic community through both theology and social practice. The Bosnian Islamic Community has published literature condemning the culpability often attached to CRSV survivors and has provided those who underwent such horrors with consistent moral support.
With what allies she can find, Tursunović has attempted to drive these ideas and networks into activism. In a region with its fair share of incendiary politics and ethnic tensions, she has fought for the acknowledgment of an opposing narrative: interfaith, and interethnic, healing. For Tursunović, the lifting up of CRSV survivors is not only a crucial social-psychological task, it is also a means of unification. Many, across lines of faith and heritage, have lived or witnessed atrocities of war, and it is perhaps through this common trauma that she hopes for reconciliation between the deeply antagonistic communities of former Yugoslavia. It is a far cry from the track-one diplomacy which has been heralded by international actors since the 1990s. It is, however, an alternative peace process worth considering for those interested in grasping a more complete version of truth and concord in that divided region.
Tanenbaum thanks The Mukwege Foundation for its nomination of Mirsada Tursunović.