Primary Sources

By Emily Gold / May / June 1999
November 14th, 2007
The conviction that survivors are the best historians drew Zaid Ashai '99 to Bosnia during last January's winter break. There he met a ten-year-old girl whose father and three brothers had all been killed within a week. He traveled to a soccer-stadium-turned-cemetery filled with graves. And he wandered through narrow alleys in which artisans sold decorated artillery shells. Ashai, who is an international-relations and economics concentrator, traveled to Bosnia to deepen his perspective on his senior honors thesis, which focused on the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. He spent part of the three-week journey speaking with political leaders and army officials, but his most valuable interviews, he says, were with everyday citizens. <

The terror of the Bosnia war has left many with a "complete loss of faith in anything," he says. "The wounds haven't healed. When you pry deep enough, you see it."

Ashai argues that, for the Bosnia peace to last, refugees must be returned home to re-create multi-ethnic neighborhoods of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. "It forces people to interact again," Ashai says. "And [those people] are going to have kids, and those kids aren't going to remember the past."

Bosnia also needs to rebuild its culture and economy, he adds: "No one's building factories. There aren't any jobs. And pay is horrible." War criminals are still on the loose. "If there's a sense of injustice in the country," he concludes, "the war could start again."

Ashai, his cousin, and a friend spent part of the trip aiding ethnic Albanians who'd fled to Bosnia from Serb attacks in Kosovo. After returning to campus, Ashai collected medicine and clothes during spring semester to send to the Kosovar refugees.

Ashai's passion for his research is partly fueled by his own family history. His parents fled their home in the volatile Kashmir region of India before he was born, and his great-grandfather was a founder of the independence movement there. Ashai sees in Bosnia a similar movement - and, unfortunately, similar governmental response.

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May / June 1999