Covering A War At Home p.16

By: Dorothy Giobbe AMID THE EXTRAORDINARY horror and carnage in Bosnia, some of the most moving stories are those of everyday Sarajevans going about their lives under the deadly threat of sniper fire and shelling.
It's more than survival instinct kicking in. The ability to maintain order and dignity in the face of unspeakable atrocities paves the way for remembering, for documenting and for reporting.
Telling Bosnia's stories is what Aida Cerkez does every day. As head of the Associated Press' news operations in Sarajevo, Cerkez has covered the devastation in her native city and surrounding country for the past three years.
Born a Muslim in Sarajevo, Cerkez was raised a Catholic. She married a Serb and has a Serbian son, who currently lives in Germany with her mother.
The ethnic differences integrated in Cerkez's life are the very ones that have ripped apart the former Yugoslavia. And while it's inconceivable that reporting on the war hasn't deeply affected Cerkez, raising a son with a dual heritage helps her to stay focused.
"What I say now to people is don't judge ? don't hate," she said. "If you do, you become part of the hating and you become part of them. By 'them,' I don't mean just the Serbs, the Croats or the Muslims. 'Them' means the people who have let their hate pervert them.
"The future is with people like my son. I don't want his thought to be too black. I don't want him to be obsessed with nationality."
Cerkez joined the AP in June 1992. As a "fixer," her job was to help AP correspondents in Sarajevo arrange interviews, transportation and fuel. As she became more fluent in English, she began to help with translation, and eventually she began writing her own copy and reports.
In New York City two weeks ago to accept the AP Gramling Award for her work in Bosnia, Cerkez was safe from sniper fire. But the war was very much in her thoughts, and she says it has irreversibly changed her.
"I'm one of those fools who thought back in 1992 that this would only last two months. I was a completely different person. I was literally like Alice in Wonderland. I thought somebody would come and stop all of this."
More than three years later, Cerkez is skeptical of the viability of the latest cease-fire agreement. But even if the guns start blasting again, Cerkez is committed to fulfilling a mission that she believes the world must pay attention to.
"At first, I wanted to document the war. I wanted to help people in Sarajevo. Now, I want to help the outside world hold up a mirror, because I don't think I can help people in Sarajevo that much.
"My motivation is that after this war, no one will ever be able to say, 'I didn't know.' I want to kick that excuse out."
Cerkez's dedication to her work springs from the attachment she has to Sarajevo. The resolve to chronicle the city's siege comes partly from her mother, who helped Cerkez understand the importance of involvement.
Cerkez recalls the two of them taking cover in the cellar of their home during a shell attack early in the war.
"We were hiding in the basement, and my mother said to me, 'What are we going to do?' and I said, 'We are going to hide.' Then my mother asked me, 'Is that all we are going to do?' "
Cerkez visits her mother and son in Germany about three times a year. The separation from her family is heartrending, she said, but fleeing permanently to Germany is not an option she will consider.
"I have had many nights where I thought about my son saying to me 'Why did you do this?' " Cerkez said. "But then I also think of him asking 'History was happening when I was little; where were you?' I think he will be proud of me.
"Every time I went to Germany, I couldn't find a sense of my life there. Being passive is very painful once you are involved in this. I didn't feel like I was contributing to anything."
Cerkez hopes chronicling the war will help foster greater awareness and understanding around the globe. But she also has seen too much bloodshed to hold any illusions about the dark side of human nature.
"There is a potential killer inside everybody. Terror and torture is part of human nature, whether we want to think so or not. It comes in different colors, in different shirts. Bosnia is just the latest example. Journalism is a tool to make people understand this.
"I'm a realist. There's no point in being emotional about this. But there is a point of trying to do something, to raise consciousness in another way. I have chosen journalism. I'm trying to be invisible, just an observer. That's the only way to do your reporting. I know how to control my emotions."
Controlling her emotions is most difficult when she sees children who have been wounded in the fighting, Cerkez said. The "hardest thing is to visit the children's ward in Sarajevo. That is where the real victims are."
Cerkez has suffered wounds of her own. Two months before she joined the AP, she went to the market to get milk for her son. On the way, a shell landed in a crowd of people on the street. Two people died, five were wounded. Shrapnel lodged in Cerkez's arm, "a joke compared to other people," she said.
Today, she wears a flack jacket and helmet. "Others don't have even that. It makes every second count. It's dangerous, and you can die any minute, but I'm better off than the average Sarajevan."
Becoming an average Sarajevan again is what Cerkez hopes for. But until stability returns to her city, she is driven to report the war in all its horrifying detail.
"Reporting this gives your life some sense. You feel like you are contributing to a step forward in human consciousness because it brings people out of their isolation."
?(Aida Cerkez runs the Associated Press news operations in
Sarajevo, recording the devastation in her own country) [Caption & Photo]
Aida Cerkez is all smiles as she is introduced as an Associated Press Gramling Award winner in New York a few weeks ago. Times have not always been so happy for the AP correspondent. Two months before joining AP in 1992, she went to the market in Sarajevo to get milk for her son. On the way, a shell landed in a crowd of people on the street. Two people died, five were wounded. Shrapnel lodged in her arm.) [Photo & Caption]


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