Growing up as the son of a Bosnian refugee, Nermin Peimanovic heard stories about how his father narrowly escaped death, desperate to rejoin his family and escape Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
At times, Peimanovic said, that meant diving into the grass to avoid bullets whistling overhead and enduring hallucinations as his father went days without enough food or water.
“It kind of pushed me through college” to earn an electrical engineering degree, Peimanovic said. Even though learning English and adjusting to American life wasn’t always easy, Peimanovic said his father’s story gave him strength.
“My dad has you know fought so hard to get us here and to get us a better life. I can do this,” he said.
Stories like Peimanovic’s and the trauma that surrounds them were the subject of an event Thursday at Western Kentucky University’s Kentucky Museum.
It was held to commemorate the 24th anniversary of a genocide in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica that killed at least 8,372 Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, by Serbian forces. On Saturday, local Bosnians will gather at Circus Square Park at 8:30 a.m. to walk for the massacre’s victims, taking a step for each life lost.
A presentation given by Mersihia Demirovic, a local Bosnian therapist, explored the different kinds of trauma refugees can endure – from stress around traumatic events, resettling in a new country, learning a new culture and language and the isolation that can come with that.
“Bosnians don’t have middle names,” Demirovic said. “But ‘resilient’ is pretty fitting.”
During her talk, Demirovic explained that not all refugees experience the same kinds of trauma and that often the symptoms can emerge later in life. She often encounters patients with mysterious body pains that can’t be explained by anything other than anxiety, among other ailments.
Between being detained, separated from their families and harassed by local authorities, there’s a wide range of stressors refugees endure while fleeing violence or persecution in their homeland, Demirovic said.
Troubles don’t necessarily end after refugees resettle in the U.S., where Demirovic said local Bosnians have faced discrimination in attaining work or housing.
That stress can have dire consequences, particularly for children, in the form of adverse childhood experiences, Demirovic said.
Over time, high-stress events can force the body into overdrive, Demirovic said, leading to poorer health outcomes later in life.
“Stress really does kill,” she said.
Demirovic recommended seeking counseling if needed and relying on positive influences, such as family, faith, education, cultural norms and values and community to recover from trauma.
Avoiding trauma doesn’t make it go away, she said.
“Bosnians are really good at this,” she joked.
Also during the event, state Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, read a message from Kentucky’s House of Representatives acknowledging the genocide and praising the local Bosnian community for its contributions to Bowling Green.
Speaking as a history professor at WKU, Minter said she regularly tells the story of the genocide in her classes.
“The Srebrenica genocide is a story that must be told and must be remembered,” she said.