April 11-24, 2003
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Horrors of War

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Horrors of War
Students share their stories
Members of the University community listened intently to the painful, first-hand accounts of war, shared by five U.Va. students.
Photos courtesy of TV News Services
Members of the University community listened intently to the painful, first-hand accounts of war, shared by five U.Va. students. The emotionally charged event, held March 27, was the third annual Children of War program.

By Matt Kelly

Five University students bore witness to the impact of armed conflict on civilian populations, especially the young, before a packed Wilson Hall Auditorium.

Two Kurds, a Colombian, a Bosnian and an American student who lived through a terrorist campaign in Spain told their stories March 27 in the third annual Children of War program.

Rebeen Pasha
Rebeen Pasha

“Some of us get anxious whenever we hear a helicopter,” said Rebeen Pasha, one of the event’s organizers. “We know how a building trembles and shakes after a bomb blast, and some of us saw family members shot before our eyes.”

Pasha said it is difficult to describe the personal impact of war on children and families, especially to students with no personal frame of reference. The Children of War panelists pour human emotions over the cold facts of war, he said.

Pasha, now a Virginia resident but originally from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, lived through the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War that followed, the Kurdish revolution and then the Kurdish civil wars. His father was gunned down in front of his family after answering a knock on the door during dinner, leaving Pasha the man of the house at age 10.

Nawraz Alan, also from Kurdistan, was 8 at the end of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein turned his forces on the Kurds. He saw Iraqi helicopter gunships massacre thousands of civilians at the Iraq-Iran border; Alan’s family survived because they hid behind a small hill.

Nawraz Alan
Nawraz Alan

As they walked back to their home, a five-day journey, he saw what became his most vivid childhood memory: a blood-covered child of about 5 years old, clutching a doll, pleading to the corpses of her parents to wake up because she wanted to go home.

Sanja Usanovic lived in the suburbs of Sarajevo, Bosnia, and watched bombs fall on the city. When the bombing neared them, her family huddled in the cellar, venturing outside only for brief periods. She was 12 at the time, confused, not understanding what was happening arounds her.

The family eventually fled to Croatia. “We changed our name with each area we went through, because if we weren’t from that area, they wouldn’t have let us in and they probably would have shot us,” she said. Eventually, they made their way to Germany, then to the U.S.

Constant terrorism is also a form of war. Adriana Navarro, born in Pereria, Colombia, to an American mother and Colombian father, and Dustin Batson, whose family lived in Madrid, recounted how terrorism affects the lives of the innocent.

Sanja Unsanovic
Sanja Usanovic

Navarro said Colombia’s 50-year-old, Cuban-inspired revolutionary movement aligned itself with the country’s illegal narcotics industry to terrorize the Colombian people. Once, the Palace of Justice was attacked and all the judges were killed; later, a presidential candidate was assassinated.

The family moved to Bogata when she was 12, but the city was soon besieged with a bombing campaign. Once, a bomb detonated near Navarro’s school, shaking the glass dome of the library as she studied.

The family moved to the U.S. after there were threats against Americans. “I can’t go back for a visit, because my parents are afraid that something will happen to me,” Navarro said. “It’s my country, war or no war, and I love it. Seventy percent of me is in Colombia. My heart is still in Colombia.”

In Spain, Batson witnessed armed conflict between the government and Basque separatists in a major western city, where armed police patrolled every street.
“My high school infirmary had 10 beds,” he said. “It was a mini-hospital attached to a school for 300 students.”

On one warm Saturday in April, he and his mother boarded a bus to go shopping, only to disembark at the wrong stop near the crowded market. Moments later, the ground shook from an explosion. A bus had blown up at the stop they had intended to use.

They went about their shopping. “In our numbness, we couldn’t comprehend what we had seen,” he said.

The panelists also talked about how their ordeals affected them in the long term.
“It made me stronger,” Unsanovic said. “I focus on school and I want to prove to myself and my country that we can become smarter. I put 100 percent into everything I do.”

Alan and Pasha both aspire to attend medical school. Alan says he wants to help poor people, and Pasha wants to help a free Kurdistan. Navarro, an architecture student, also wants to return to Colombia, and Batson wants to work internationally for human rights.

The accounts clearly had a message for students absorbed in daily concerns about classes and money.

“The price people pay for freedom is very high,” Pasha said. “When you talk about your rights, think about your privileges.”

“We were fighting to be free,” Alan said. “Things are so incredible here. You ought to be breaking a law if you take it for granted.”


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