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Fontbonne’s new Center for Bosnian Studies preserves history for new generations, scholars

Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Behidin Piric and Adna Karamehic-Oates hope the new center serves as a regional hub of knowledge and resources on Bosnia.

Fontbonne University opens its new Center for Bosnian Studies on March 1. It’s appropriate timing: On that day 30 years ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina voted to create an independent state, setting off violent attacks from Serbia-backed forces — and the Bosnian War. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the day remains a national holiday: Independence Day.

Benjamin Moore of Fontbonne University holds a book with photos of Muslims who lost their lives during the Bosnian War. Moore runs the Bosnia Memory Project.
Tim Lloyd
St. Louis Public Radio
Benjamin Moore of Fontbonne University holds a book with photos of Muslims who lost their lives during the Bosnian War.

But while the center is new, the work being done there is not. Benjamin Moore, then a Fontbonne professor, founded the Bosnian Memory Project in 2006 as a way to preserve and record the histories of the Bosnians who fled war and genocide.

“They were bringing with them a story of intolerance,” said Center for Bosnian Studies Director Adna Karamehic-Oates. Moore, she said, felt it was important to preserve those stories for future generations — “and for researchers to study how these things come about and what they result in.”

The new name reflects the organization’s increasing role as a hub of knowledge and resources on Bosnia. “We always envisioned a place in St. Louis that would be a permanent presence,” Karamehic-Oates said.

The center will continue collecting oral histories of survivors and their families. Its new permanent home in Fontbonne’s Jack C. Taylor Library will also allow for the cataloging and display of artifacts, including documents, photos and letters from survivors.

Karamehic-Oates joined Monday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the center’s efforts. She was joined by Behidin Piric, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre who now lives in Arnold. Piric recently interned for the Bosnia Memory Project, and he continues to collect oral histories today.

Adna Karamehic-Oates and Behidin Piric join St. Louis on the Air

“I'm learning about my own history, and it's quite difficult,” he said. “A lot of these interviews… involved concentration camps, mass killings, mass rapes, and [it] especially hit me hard in instances where they would mention a specific village that I know — my uncle was born there, or my mom is from that village.

“A large majority of survivors, such as myself, just want to make sure what happened in our country doesn't happen to anyone else ever again,” he added.

Countering the hate and discrimination that fueled the war in Bosnia — and that remains at the root of so many conflicts around the world today — is at the heart of the center’s mission, Karamehic-Oates said.

“To continue fighting against that narrative of hate and discrimination,” she said, “we need to stand together against it.”

Related Event
What: Fontbonne University opens the new Center for Bosnian Studies
When: March 1
Where: Jack C. Taylor Library at Fontbonne University (6800 Wydown Blvd. No. 3098, St. Louis, MO 63105)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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