April 20, 2000

Tribute to Samir Durakovic

photo of Samir Durakovic

    This is dedicated to my dear friend Samir Durakovic. A survivor of the siege of Sarajevo, Samir was killed in a car crash April 14 along with his friend Riad Tomasevic after their car was hit by a speeding Mercedes Benz near the town of Zenica in Bosnia, Herzegovina. The driver of the Mercedes was drunk at the time of the crash. Two other passengers in Samir's car survived.

    Warm, funny, generous and loving, he will live on in the hearts of the many people whose lives he enriched.

    I first "met" Samir in 1992 when I was desperate to get news about a dear friend in Sarajevo at the start of the war in Bosnia. A ham operator in Slovenia went on the air for me, to try to find a Bosnian radioamateur with news about my friend. By chance, he encountered Samir in Sarajevo, who was a friend of my friend -- and knew that my friend was still alive.

    Samir didnít know me or my Slovene ham friend. He had so many other things to worry about Ė finding food, finding water, dodging shells and mortars, surviving somehow. Nevertheless, he set up a weekly schedule to talk with my Slovene ham friend, so I could get news about my friend in Sarajevo. And then Samir became my friend, too.

    It is so fitting that our friendship was born this way, through an act of generosity and caring on his part.

    Samir passed countless messages in and out of besieged Sarajevo during the war, when amateur radio was the only way for people trapped in the city to have contact with the outside world.

    "This work took a horrible psychological toll on us, as we listened to peopleís often-tragic fates," he wrote in an article published in QST, the journal of Americaís national amateur radio society, in October 1995. "We often had to tell people that members of their families had been killed." After a Serb-launched shell killed 70 people and wounded more than 200 in a Sarajevo market in February 1994, Samir and his friend Edin were on the radio all night, taking to other hams across Europe sending and receiving messages about peopleís conditions.

    What he didnít write in the article, but I also know, is how dangerous this work could be. When he had a message to pass to someone in Sarajevo who didnít have a working local phone, he risked his life to travel through shelling and sniper fire to deliver it in person. Helping his friends was one of the most important things in his life. Anything you asked, it seemed, was "no problem" Ė a phrase he said so often I joked it must be the Bosnian national motto.

    Later during the war, Bosnian hams managed somehow to better power their radios and put up antennas that could reach not only the rest of Europe but around the world. I was finally able to talk to Samir on the air myself. At first, he didnít know that much English and I didnít know any Bosnian, but somehow we managed. His English got lots better; and I soon started studying his language. I would try with my woeful grammar and bizarre pronunciations to read letters in Bosnian on the air. No matter how terrible things were in Sarajevo, those letters never failed to amuse him.

    The sound of his laughter is a joyous music I will never forget.

    Those who are long-time subscribers to This Week in Bosnia-Hercegovina have Samir to thank for some of the news we were able to report during the war that couldnít yet be found in most American media Ė information he passed along not only from Sarajevo, but from his family and colleagues elsewhere in the country.

    Despite all that he suffered, Samir remained warm, generous, loving and caring -- with his sense of humor always intact. Friends who survived the war with him say he was always joking, even during the darkest days of the siege, making everyone laugh despite the hell around them.

    Samir had a chance to leave Bosnia after the war, but he chose to stay in Sarajevo in the city he loved. He was frustrated with some of the post-war situation there, though, telling me once that he wished the international community spent less on fixing infrastructure and more on helping the economy. He would rather spend another year or two with water and electricity problems, he said, if more people could find decent-paying jobs.

    He would tell stories about things that happened during the war; but in general, he didnít much like talking about politics, at least with me. He found joy in Sarajevo living, visiting with friends, going out for coffee, heading to a club or disco. He often enjoyed visiting with Riad at Riadís leather shop in Bascarsija, in Sarajevoís old town. There he sometimes helped Riad make leather goods, and he could watch the people passing by and chat with residents and tourists who stopped into the shop. He epitomized the pre-war Sarajevo that, while a major city, was also in some ways a small town, where so many people knew each other and what was happening in each otherís lives.

    He also got to enjoy peacetime ham radio again, setting a world record in a contest called CQ WPX SSB on the 160-meter frequency band, in 1996.

    Samir was buried April 17 next to his friend Riad at Alifakovac cemetery, at a service attended by a huge number of mourners. "It was great, if a funeral can be great," one of his friends wrote to me from Sarajevo. "There were lots of people, friends, radioamateurs, friends from work... In the time of the funeral, [the place where he worked] was empty. Every one of the employees were there. The weather was sunny, with no clouds in the sky. Ö"

    Samir leaves his parents in Sarajevo, a brother in Australia and countless friends around the world who miss him with a pain that cannot be described.

    Ja te puno volim, Samire. Uvijek.

--Sharon, KC1YR

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