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A War Ignored (with VIDEO)

Monday, March 4, 2013 – By Clynton Namuo

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As a child growing up in Sarajevo, Kemal Zec waited each winter for a dense fog to envelope the city. The thick haze provided him and his friends a security blanket from the snipers.

Then, one day, as he played outside, the fog cleared without warning and a bullet ripped through the air, ricocheted off a wall and struck him.

“Part of the bullet came through my knee, but because I was wearing so many layers of clothing… it stopped just in the last layer,” Zec said.

Zec’s story is just one of many told to a group of five senior photography majors in Georgia State University’s Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design, who are collecting oral histories from Yugoslav war survivors resettled in the Atlanta area.


The stories provide heart-wrenching accounts of lives lived amid ethnic violence that tore a country asunder and turned simple tasks like getting a drink of water into life-threatening gambles. Students involved in the interviews said they gained a new perspective on a country and a conflict they knew next to nothing about.

“These shouldn’t be normal circumstances for any child,” said Brandon English, one of the students participating in the project, A War Ignored: A Collection of Oral Histories.

The project is the brainchild of Associate Professor Stewart Ziff and began in the fall as a one semester independent study done in conjunction with a CENCIA exhibition that examined the conflict in Sarajevo. Students interviewed six people on camera from around Atlanta and discovered tales so compelling that they decided to continue the project this spring.

“We’re trying to spread the word and inform people about what happened,” said student Sarah Cavalcanti.

Hearing and seeing someone talk about sprinting out their door to avoid gunfire adds a human element to a war that no textbook ever could, Ziff said.

“You were exposing yourself to snipers just to go to work,” he said.

The interviews form a picture of a Sarajevo brought to its knees. One of the first casualties was the trees, which were clear cut and burned to keep warm.

“Then they started using the books, the shoes, then different parts of the furniture,” Zec said in his interview. He remembered his food tasting like shoes, a result of using footwear to fuel fires for cooking.

Student Miranda Ellis said the project changed her outlook on life so drastically that she no longer wants to be an artist. Instead, she hopes to find a job helping those in need.

“This changed my career path,” she said. “I’ll never forget any of it.”

Students prepare to interview a Bosnian war survivor resettled in the Atlanta area.