From the S&S archives: A defiant town yields only to peace
December 18, 1995
TEOCAK, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The people in this small village have become a symbol of the Bosnians' fight against rebel Serbs. Their tale is one of death, deceit, perseverance and, finally, triumph.
It features a dynamic leader who died in battle, a massacre, the deaths of more than 400 people, an encircled village, and a bold and, bloody breakout that opened a corridor for supplies and reinforcements.
"Everybody who was able to fight was fighting," said 30-year-old Bosnian army Capt. Bakir Mesic, who commands the brigade in Teocak.
"They are a symbol of our resistance," said Bosnian army 1st Lt. Zvjezdan Karadzin, a liaison officer based in Tuzla.
It was Mesic's older brother, Hajrudin, who led the village and neighboring farm communities in the early battles against the Bosnian Serbs. Hajrudin died in 1992, six months into the fighting.
Today, Teocak is on the tip of a tongue of land that more or less represents the Bosnian government's easternmost settlement. Located northeast of Tuzla — the hub for U.S.. forces deploying to Bosnia — Teocak is on the southern end of the critically important Posavina corridor. The roughly 4-mile-wide corridor links Bosnian-Serbian forces in the north and south.
As the Bosnian Serbs went on the offensive in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina in early, 1992, elements captured the city of Bijeljina and turned south and north to broaden their gains. .
The land between Bijeljina and Zvornik to the south includes the village of Teocak.
The Serbs threatened villages with annihilation if their leaders didn't sign letters of loyalty. Many towns capitulated in the hope of avoiding bloodshed.
With Teocak and its outlying settlements in the firing line, area leaders acquiesced, according to Mesic, who is from Teocak.
The leaders of this overwhelmingly Muslim area — population about 12,000 — cut a deal, pledging loyalty for peace. But soon after, the Bosnian Serbs told the people of the Teocak region to surrender all weapons and leave, Mesic said. Hundreds in the countryside fled. About this time, word began filtering back that many people from areas already under Serbian control had been sent to prison camps, others were simply disappearing.
"Teocak was full of people, but we didn't have any help, food, et cetera, because it was blocked on each side," Mesic said.
In July 1992, about 120 unarmed Teocak residents, mostly in their 20s, set out on foot for Zvornik to escape the fighting, Mesic said. They ran into a Bosnian Serbian patrol and 82 Teocak residents were killed. A few survived the attack and made it to Zvornik.
Word of the massacre soon reached Hajrudin Mesic and his men, a ragtag unit that started as 30 to 40 men with nothing but hunting rifles. They began using guerrilla tactics to try to protect Teocak from the Serbs.
Aided by an influx of refugees and their attacks on Serbian units that garnered arms and equipment, Hajrudin Mesic's forces grew to about 1,000 men. Eventually, Hajrudin led 40 men on an attempt to punch a hole in the enemy's lines. It worked.
Soon afterward, Hajrudin was killed in combat, but the corridor enabled his forces to forge a new road through a forest that linked Teocak with Tuzla. The wounded were evacuated, and reinforcements and food were brought in.
Hajrudin Haracic, a young doctor who was among the original 40, said thousands of shells rained down on Teocak in the 3½ years of war. He estimates that at least 500 people were killed and another 1,500 were injured.
During that time, 400 babies were brought into the world by the 32-year-old doctor.
Haracic, who runs Teocak's medical clinic with his brother, said he, too, was injured. He pats his upper right chest with his left hand and pulls his camouflaged jacket down to show off his shrapnel wound.
Asked if he thinks the war is over, Haracic pursed his lips and thought for a moment.
"I cannot believe the war is really over," he said. "I'm having my doubts. We had cease-fires many times and they have broken it."
What remains unbroken is the spirit of Teocak. The village, pulverized in some areas by artillery shells long since fallen, is roughly 1,000 meters from Bosnian Serbian front lines.
"Yeah, I'm proud," a middle-aged woman, standing in front of her home, said of the men who defended the town. "Because they defended us."
Down the street, a dozen soldiers mingled around a captured T-47 tank that was being repaired. A soldier working inside emerged from the World War II-era tank. His greasy hands grasped a part he just yanked from the tank's innards.
"I hope they (the Americans) will leave us something behind better than this 50-year-old tank," said another soldier wearing a black and yellow baseball cap emblazoned with "Farmland" across the front.
Mesic admitted there is disappointment over the timing of the peace accord, adding that Bosnian army troops were recapturing land lost to the Bosnian Serbs.
Nonetheless, he is relieved that the fighting appears over and that NATO and Russian troops will soon arrive to separate the combatants. Only then, he said, will Teocak be able to lower its guard and concentrate on the future.
"At this time, we don't know which forces will come here," Mesic said, "but whoever comes here will have our support."