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BOSFAM was established in 1994 in the town of Tuzla at the height of the Bosnian War with a mission to help all women refugees in eastern Bosnia, regardless of their ethnicity. The driving force behind BOSFAM, Beba Hadžić, had served as principal of the Srebrenica Primary School until she was forced to flee Srebrenica by Bosnian Serbs during the early stages of the war in 1992.

A year after BOSFAM’s creation, in July 1995, the organization was inundated by requests from desperate women who had been expelled from Srebrenica and lost their menfolk in the notorious massacre. Under Beba’s leadership, BOSFAM was to spend most of the next nineteen years helping survivors to rebury their dead, regain their homes in Srebrenica, and earn an income – all the while providing a safe space at two centers in Tuzla and Srebrenica.

The Start of the War, 1992

Beba school

Beba Hadžić was the principal of this primary school in Srebrenica before the war.

The Start of the War, 1992

Before the war in Bosnia broke out in April 1992, Beba Hadžić enjoyed a comfortable life in Srebrenica. A mathematician by training, she had served as principal of the primary school for twelve years. The family owned an apartment in the lower part of town, a country cottage, and a house on the road to the Guber Springs.

It all changed after the Bosnian Serbs launched a surprise attack on Muslims in April 1992. Although the Serbs were repulsed, Beba and her family left for Tuzla were they joined thousands of other Muslim families that had fled the Serb onslaught.

Beba began working for the agency Oxfam, which had set up a knitting program for displaced women in three converted schools. “We wanted to do something for the women, who were just sitting around,” she recalls. “When you sit, you can knit.” Oxfam supplied the wool and BOSFAM women knitted sweaters and hats for needy families. Knitting proved therapeutic for newly-arrived refugees.

BOSFAM is Born, 1994

Beba with teachers

This photo shows Redžep Bektić and Mevludin Smajić with Beba Hadzic, the founder of BOSFAM while the three were teaching at the Srebrenica primary school. Redzep and Mevludin were among those killed in the massacre. The photo is one of Beba’s most treasured possessions.

BOSFAM is Born, 1994

Beba  decided to carry on the work that Oxfam had started, launching BOSFAM. Between 1993 and 1995, BOSFAM ran knitting projects in 44 refugee collective centers.

Soon after Beba established BOSFAM, she purchased several large looms with money from donors. This allowed women to make flat weave carpets, or ćilims, in the traditional Bosnian style.

By 1995, BOSFAM was already receiving orders for its carpets and donors were so impressed that they offered funding for a new BOSFAM center.

BOSFAM House quickly became the spiritual home for displaced Bosnian women from the east. Huge, roomy and full of sunlight, it provided a space where the women could weave, knit and just keep each other company. Coffee breaks were all important, but the focus was also on keeping busy. A BOSFAM motto on the wall asked members not to make promises, but to “do something.”

The Srebrenica Genocide, 1995

Mourning Sreb

Women mourn the deaths of their male relatives at the annual burials of newly identified remains in Srebrenica.

The Srebrenica Genocide, 1995

BOSFAM was traumatized but also defined by the Srebrenica massacre. On July 11, 1995, the United Nations-designated “safe area” of Srebrenica fell to Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladić. Serb soldiers separated out women, boys and old men and bussed to the edge of Muslim-controlled territory. The rest were murdered and the UN’s Blue Helmets did not intervene. The sudden loss of 8,372 Muslim men and boys created a core group that would come to BOSFAM House to weave regularly as a means of coping.

By the end of 1995, many BOSFAM members were skilled weavers and BOSFAM found a ready market for souvenirs among NATO soldiers. After the closing of the Arizona US army base in Eastern Bosnia,  BOSFAM was faced with the challenge of finding new markets so the women could continue to support themselves economically.

Turning to Advocacy, 1999-2000

Iain-and-Beba

The Advocacy Project’s Iain Guest and BOSFAM’s Beba Hadzic partnered after the Srebrenica massacre and are still working together closely today.

Turning to Advocacy, 1999-2000

After the genocide BOSFAM partnered with the Washington, DC-based organization, The Advocacy Project (AP), led by Iain Guest. He had visited BOSFAM during the war and purchased some small ćilims and in 1999, AP asked Peter Lippman, a talented writer, to profile the efforts of Muslim refugees to return home. This brought Peter into contact with Beba and with BOSFAM. He began in the town of Kozarac and worked his way eastwards. In 2000 he visited the hills around Srebrenica, where Muslims were waiting in tents in the hope of returning home.