Skip to the main content

Becoming a Refugee

The Smell of War in the Air - Yella and Mooshie Zahirovich

Time 3:12


Mooshie Zahirovich (MZ) : So Yugoslavia was falling apart and, and some, parts of it already declared as, as independent states, and, and I could hear guns closer and closer coming to my place. And, and you could feel this uneasiness all around us. And, and men were taking arms already and sending the, uh, children and wives and older people outside the country as much as they could.

That’s what I did with my pregnant wife. And I had to stay behind because I had a job and still was that hope—it’s not going to happen. I—it’s hard to explain, because this is—we have that inside us, we always hope for the best. That we become ob—oblivious to somethings happening around us that everyone can see but you cannot.

And, I, because I was, I was in sit—my marriage situation was different. I could not participate in activities of local men, and I didn’t take part in any preparation for the war.

Pressure was enormous. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and eventually one day I say, “Okay, I’m going to take a, a part in, in uh, in guarding the village.” So, one night, from midnight to morning, I went there with the gun and other guys and just watched for something. I, and then I decided, no, you know what? This is not for me. I just don’t belong here. As, as we didn’t.

And as it proved. Usually in a war you have two sides fighting. In Bosnia it was three sides fighting each other. So, like, it’s, like almost double, everything magnified. And, uh, my ethnic group was fighting hers, and—

Yella Zahirovich (YZ) : Basically, my brother was fighting his brother. Because—

MZ : Yeah. It, it—

YZ : Both of them of them were soldiers.

MZ : Not directly, but on different war lines, but it’s, it was that.

And then I, the following morning, a colleague of mine and I, we took the car, and I remember leaving my village and driving the car between the bombs that were set up on the, on the road, as a part of protecting that village from, uh, tanks. And, and I was leaving and already my town—nothing was happening. Division was complete—police did not exist, government didn’t exist, nothing, nothing, nothing. We smelled the war in the air.

And, and I left—managed to leave, but actually I still had the hope that I’m going to come back.

YZ : Yeah.

MZ : It’s, it’s, it’s still unbelievable, but that’s why I didn’t even take my passport with me. Of course I’m going to come back. I never came back. I’m in Canada.

Oral History 14.03.06YMZ with Yella and Mooshie Zahirovich
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21