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Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE, chairman of ‘Remembering Srebrenica’
THE SREBRENICA GENOCIDE WAS THE WORST ATROCITY IN EUROPE SINCE THE SECOND WORLD WAR
BOSNIAN / BOSANSKI
In preparation for this interview, I have found through articles over the internet that dr. Waqar Azmi OBE, is one of the most influential Muslims in the World. In addition, he is the EU ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue; advisor to the UK minister of foreign affairs, and founder/volunteer chairman of ‘Remembering Srebrenica’.
Who is Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE and is it true that he is one of the most influential muslims in the world. Could you tell us more about yourself and your work. Could you introduce yourself to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina who are not familiar with your work?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: I grew up with my family in Uttar Pradesh, India, and moved to the UK at the age of 13, speaking no English when I arrived. I graduated in 1993 with a degree in Politics and Social Policy.
In October 2004, I was appointed as UK Government's Chief Diversity Adviser at the Cabinet Office and received an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.
In 2013 I established the charitable initiative Remembering Srebrenica.
Is it true that thanks to your dedicated work in highlighting the genocide in Srebrenica, that the UK government admitted that it made a mistake in allowing the genocide to happen, and that due to this they changed their political views towards Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: The Srebrenica genocide was the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War. The world failed Srebrenica and in the words of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of United Nations “through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.”
Srebrenica should always serve as a reminder of what happens when we allow hatred to prevail and that our pride in our identity must not allow us to dehumanise or murder those who are different to us. Srebrenica should therefore be a reminder of our common humanity.
One inevitable question; you are constantly working towards highlighting the genocide in Srebrenica; what is your perception in terms on if the genocide alone is a strong enough motive for the world leaders to change so that we can live in surroundings without terrorism, taking into account that terrorism can be within the same country, religious, political or individual?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: Murder based on hatred and intolerance is evil and we must not allow anyone to feel that other cultures, religions or ethnic identities are inferior and therefore don’t have an equal right to life. This kind of racist ideology must be eliminated. We need world leaders to ensure that they are responsible in their words and actions to not inflame hatred or superiority and cause divisions. We must therefore be vigilant and educate ourselves and our children to respect others as we want to be respected ourselves.
Maulana Qamaruzzaman Azmi is your father and people see him as one of the world’s great fighters for human rights and women’s rights. He is obviously a man that wants to help so could you tell us some more about him and his work, and has his work over the last 50 years inspired yourself?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: My father has always stood up for human rights and equality and that has influenced my views and outlook on life. He believes strongly in the rights of women and that Islam and secular society can co-exist peacefully. He promotes social cohesion and generating important dialogues and I hope to continue his valuable work.
When did you first come across Bosnia and Herzegovina and the struggles of Bosnian Muslims during the aggression? How did that affect you?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: I grew up with the harrowing scenes of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on our television screens watching neighbour turn against neighbour, friend against friend, ethnicity against ethnicity. I will never forget the Omarska concentration camp, and that ethnic cleansing, systematic mass rape and genocide that was happening. This prompted me to leave my job as a lecturer in Southampton and devote my life to tackling racial inequality. These were the darkest moments in our lifetime and we owe it to the victims to learn the lessons of Srebrenica: that the evil of hatred, racism and bigotry must be confronted if we are to create a better and safer society for all.
The ‘Remembering Srebrenica’ organisation has become famous around the world. You are the founder, volunteer and chairman of the organisation. When you started this project, did you have an idea that ‘Remebering Srebrenica’ would become one of the leading organisations in highlighting the genocide in Srebrenica. In your eyes, what have been the greatest achievements of this organisation during this time?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: The greatest achievement of the organisation has been to provide a platform for survivors to tell their story so that the world listens. The world was complacent during the time of the genocide and we must not allow the world to be complacent again by forgetting the survivors and the victims. It is only by connecting the world to this horrific part of our recent history that we can affect the mindset of future generations to work towards creating a better future for everyone. This includes those in Bosnia Herzegovina itself and most importantly justice for those survivors and mothers of Srebrenica who still live with the pain of the genocide and the memory of their horrific experiences.
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: The first commemoration was in 2013 which was the first outside of Bosnia Herzegovina Europe. It was a historical and very emotional moment because we became the first country in Europe to implement the EU resolution. This resolution saw the European Parliament calling on the Council and the Commission to appropriately commemorate the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide by supporting Parliament’s recognition of 11 July as the day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide all over the EU, and to call on all the countries of the western Balkans to do the same.
It is a shame on Europe that they still fail to implement the very resolution they unanimously agreed and I would strongly urge all leaders to remember Srebrenica in order to learn the lessons to create a better society in their own countries.
In 2013 the event was held at Lancaster House and we had the privilege to take three Srebrenica survivors to meet the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, who spent an hour with the survivors listening to their stories and making a commitment that Srebrenica will never be forgotten. Later on in the evening the Foreign Secretary, The Archbishop of Westminster, and leaders from different political parties spoke passionately honouring the victims of Srebrenica and committing to creating a better future. Last year we extended our work throughout the UK and held national commemoration events in England, Scotland and Wales with 600 acts of remembrance across faith, civic and educational institutions.
Since the inception of the charity, we have also distributed over 10,000 Remembering Srebrenica books, and over 3000 pupils have benefitted from Remembering Srebrenica assemblies so we are constantly working to raise awareness of the genocide.
In 2015 we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide on Bosnian Muslims within the UN safe zone. What will your organisation contribute towards this?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: We will be holding national commemorative events in England, Wales and Scotland with our national commemorative event taking place at Westminster Abbey with dignitaries from around the world in attendance. In addition to this, we hope to have over 100 local events across the country which bring communities together in acts of remembrance.
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: It would be wonderful for countries across Europe to have permanent memorials to honour the victims of the genocide and to remind us of the darkest moment of our recent past. We have volunteers who are working hard to do this in different cities and towns in the UK and we look forward to a positive outcome.
In December you also discussed the possibility of a partnership with the "Internationally alliance" (Svijetski savez), and the ‘Bosnia UK Network’. What do you expect from the Bosnian people living in the diaspora and especially those living in the UK?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: The Bosnian community in the UK is a thriving community with huge successes and opportunities. It is wonderful to see the community making headway in the world of politics and business and contributing greatly to every aspect of society. We are delighted that the Bosnian community is involved with Remembering Srebrenica as part of the beautiful mosaic of different communities coming together in the name of Srebrenica for the common good.
Wherever possible we would like to work with the Bosnian community and engage with them to hold memorial events across the regions. We have had some very positive involvement from Bosnians living in the UK and hope to build upon this in the 20th anniversary year.
To end, do you have a final message to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Dr. Waqar Azmi OBE: Bosnia-Herzegovina is the gem of Europe. It is a duty upon all of us to ensure that history is never repeated, but at the same time it is important that the country and its people are allowed to play a full part in society. Despite all the political and social challenges I do see a bright future for Bosnia-Herzegovina. I see hard work, talent and great opportunities which will bring the country the success that it deserves. Bosnia - Herzegovina has always provided help and support to those who need it and has been home to multiculturalism of peace, as well as thriving and caring communities. I know this will continue.