As I read and learn about Cambodia’s history, my posture shows that I am sitting on the edge of the chair, waiting for it to be unfolded. I thought it is worth a blogpost to share what I read and you may find its history fascinating, head turning, heart breaking, yet the God of justice may call you too to come to love this nation and its people!
“Cambodia’s heritage can be traced back to the rise of Khmer empire in the 9th century. As the Khmer empire grew in power, the kingdom exerted political, cultural and spiritual influence over all of Southeast Asia until the 13th century. This empire employed its people to build intricate irrigation systems and construct temples including, the Angkor Wat temple complex, a finalist in the 2007 “New Seven Wonders of the World”.
After this great empire was overthrown in the 14th century, the Khmers faced weak kings, internal rivalries, and continual warfare with the Thais and succumbing to French colonial rule in the late 1800s. However, in 1953, the French installed Norodom Sihanouk, who led Cambodia to independence.
King Silhanouk was the country’s leader for 17 years, before being ousted in a coup detat, led by General Lon Nol. In 1970, following the coup, Cambodia quickly descended into civil war, involving three factions. One was those who were loyal to the communist ideal (Khmer Rouge), one loyal to the royal family, those loyal to the new Prime Minister (Lon Nol). Each group believed they were loyal to the best interest of the Khmer. During the early part of civil war, Sihanouk entered an alliance with the KR, led by Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge was a small guerrilla force, but grew into a large army in just a few weeks. As the raging war in neighbouring Vietnam entered Cambodia, fighting engulfed the entire country.
On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. Historian David Chandler (I am reading his books) paints a vivid picture, “Communist troops, dressed in peasant clothes or simple khaki uniforms, ominously silent and heavily armed, converged on the capital. Many of them were under 15 years of age. Walking slowly down the capital’s broad avenues, they responded coldly to the people’s welcome. Their arrival coincided roughly with the Cambodian New Year. The coincidence was deliberate, for the communists intended that the year to come, like Year One of the French Revolution, would usher in an entirely new phase of Cambodian history.” Many rejoiced, believing the country’s civil war was over and their country would soon be able to rebuild.
A new phase of Cambodian history was ushered in. The Khmer Rouge victory led to a revolution sweeping through Cambodia. Soldiers warned that US war planes would bomb the cities. and forced the urban populations to evacuate, leaving the cities empty and lifeless. Many Khmers believed this evacuation would be short. It turned into 4 years of forced labour, famine, suffering and death in agrarian labour camps.
The Khmer Rouge asserted that over 2,000 years of Cambodian history had ended, the new regime carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from foreign influence, closing hospitals, schools and factories, abolishing finance, currency, and banking, outlawing all religions and confiscating all private property. The objective of the Khmer Rouge was to introduce a pure Maoist agrarian society. To “purify” the people, they executed all military and public service personnel, the educated, the intellectuals, those believed to be loyal to the old government, professional workers, and religious leaders. A conservative estimate of deaths as a direct result of Khmer Rouge actions is slightly over one million, about 1 in every 7 Khmer. Altogether, deaths related to Khmer Rouge actions, disease, starvation or other hardships are estimated at over 1.7 million people, with 1 million fleeing from the country.
Now, over 13.6 millions people live in Cambodia. Over half of the population was born after 1985, and over 35% of the population is under aged 14. Over 1.5m live in capital city of Phnom Penh. Cambodia is perhaps the most ethnically homogenized nation in the world as Khmer (ethnics Cambodians) count for over 90% of the total population. When one thinks of Cambodian culture and people, they are thinking of Khmers.
The largest of the minority people in Cambodia are ethnic Vietnamese. There may be up to 1 million (7% of the population) Vietnamese in Cambodia. Vietnamese people share little in culture and language with Khmer.”
Reading thus far, this song rings in my head: Can A Nation Be Changed. Let this nation be changed. Let this nation be saved. Let this nation be turned back to you.