What it feels like to be burn alive
Testimony by Zehra Turjacanin, the only survivor from the burning building in Bikavac, Visegrad. The house of Meho Aljic was set ablaze on 27 June 1992, on Vidovdan (the Serb Orthodox Holiday marking the Battle of Kosovo Polje, 1389) by Milan Lukic and other members of his paramilitary formation.
Q. And where did these men lead you to?
18 A. About 100 metres away from my house to another house.
19 Q. Do you know the name of the family or the person who owned this
21 A. Yes, I do.
22 Q. What was the name of the family that owned this house?
23 A. Aljic.
24 Q. And what was the name of the head of the household?
25 A. Meho Aljic.
1 Q. What happened when you arrived in front of the Meho Aljic house?
2 A. We all went into the house of Meho Aljic.
3 Q. Do you recall what you were wearing that day?
4 A. Yes, I do.
5 Q. Can you please describe what you were wearing, including any
7 A. I was wearing sneakers, pants, a red T-shirt, a jacket, and I had
8 a small gold chain on my neck.
9 Q. Did anything happen to that small gold chain?
10 A. I was the last one to enter the house, and at that moment as I
11 was entering, Milan Lukic himself pulled the gold chain out from under my
12 red T-shirt.
13 Q. Can you describe for us what you saw when you first entered the
15 A. Yes.
16 Q. Please do so.
17 A. Well, there were lots of people in the house. They were all
18 sitting against the walls in the house.
17 A. In that house there were mainly young mothers with their small
18 children. There were also a few elderly people, two or three elderly
19 men, also a few elderly women, but unfortunately there were many children
20 in the house.
21 Q. What would you say was the age of the youngest child you saw in
22 the house that evening?
23 A. The son of Suhra, Enamalada [as interpreted]. Her son had more
24 than one year [as interpreted].
25 Q. What’s your best recollection as to the time of day that this
2 A. Yes, I do. It was approximately 8.30.
3 Q. What was the atmosphere like in that room?
4 A. Fear.
5 Q. What happened in that room that night?
6 A. The men that I mentioned, first of all they threw rocks at the
7 house to break the — the windows, and then they threw in some grenades,
8 and then they shot at the walls and the people inside and after that set
10 Q. You’ve mentioned some grenades. Were you injured in any way when
11 this happened?
12 A. Yes. My left leg was injured in several places.
13 Q. You testified that a fire was set. Can I ask you to describe for
14 us in as much detail as you recall how that happened?
15 A. Well, today I can’t remember all the details.
16 Q. Just if you’d tell us what you do recall today.
17 A. Well, after throwing the rocks and the grenades and shooting at
18 us a fire broke out, and it just happened way too quickly, so quickly.
19 That’s really all I can say at this moment.
20 Q. What portion of the house was the fire in?
21 A. It was the room in which we were, the living-room and the
22 dining-room or kitchen, however you would like to call it.
23 Q. Can you characterise how quickly the fire spread in that room?
24 A. Yes. The fire spread extremely quickly, very quickly.
25 Q. What did people in the room do?
1 A. The people inside were burning alive. They were wailing,
2 screaming. It’s just not describable what I heard.
3 Q. Did their clothes catch fire?
4 A. Well, with all the fire and smoke I couldn’t see anything.
5 Q. Did your clothes catch fire?
6 A. Yes. Yes, of course.
7 Q. Where was Aida at this time?
8 A. Well, she was still next to me. In fact, I held her close to me,
9 close to my stomach.
10 Q. What happened next?
11 A. When I started to — to really burn and it was unbearable, I
12 remembered where the door was, the door through which I came in, and I
13 tried to escape through that door.
14 Q. Were you able to escape through that door?
15 A. Well, I was surprised when I reached the door. I wanted to — to
16 go through the door and take my sister with me, but we weren’t able to
17 because there was an obstruction, but I did manage to get out.
18 Q. Were you able to take your sister with you?
19 A. No, no, not at all. She stayed behind.
20 Q. After you got outside of that house were you able to see what it
21 was that was obstructing the door?
22 A. Yes.
23 Q. What was it?
24 A. Well, there was another door leaning against the door. It was a
25 metal garage door that was leaning against the door and therefore
1 blocking it.
2 Q. How was it that you were able to get past this garage door?
3 A. Well, there was a space of approximately 65 centimetres, and
4 that’s what enabled me to get through.
5 Q. After you got outside of the house did you see anyone?
6 A. Yes, I did. I saw the men who had caused the fire.
7 Q. Where precisely were they?
8 A. About 100 metres away. They were lying on the grass.
9 Q. Could you see what they were doing?
10 A. Yes. They were lying on the grass.
11 Q. Did they see you?
12 A. Yes, they saw me.
13 Q. Did any of them say anything to you?
14 A. Yes. In fact, they all shouted at me at the same time. They
15 said, “Stop. Stop.”
16 Q. Did you stop?
17 A. No, I did not.
18 Q. What did you do?
19 A. Well, I ran, and as I was doing so I shook off my clothes that
20 were burning.
21 Q. Where were you running to?
22 A. Well, I reason away from the house towards another house, towards
23 Megdan in neighbourhood where the Serbian population was.
Zehra knew Lukic well, because she went to the same school with him. Her brother Dzevad shared the same table with Lukic in class.
8 Q. Do you know whether Dzevad Turjacanin also knew Milan Lukic?
9 A. Yes.
10 Q. How did your brother know Milan Lukic?
11 A. Because they were in the same class at school.
12 Q. Did your brother ever speak about who he shared his classroom
13 table with?
14 A. Yes.
15 Q. Who did he share his classroom table with?
16 A. With Milan Lukic.