Talking about bridges

Talking about bridges

History reminds me of a river: in most days, sitting nearby a bridge, we could see it calmly flowing before our eyes. However, in times of storm and heavy rains, a bridge is where danger occurs.


Many years ago, I became very close to an adorable girl from a town named Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. During one of our nocturne conversations, that often took place facing the Mediterranean while sitting on Nice old town pebbles beach, she told me the story of Mostar bridge.

Stari Most, “the old bridge” in English, was built in 1566 by Mimar Hayruddin, apprentice of famous architect Mimar Sinan and stood for 427 years. Croats deliberately destroyed it using mortar shell bombing on 9 November 1993, during the ethnic conflict that opposed them to Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sinan disciple engineered its aerial pull to last forever and statics laws prescribed it could only be annihilated by an equal and opposite push of human hate. By shattering the old bridge, Croats intended to eradicate memories of pacific co-existence of Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic populations living on the banks of Neretva river.

Between 1991 and 2001, several conflicts tore the territory of the former Republic of Yugoslavia leading to the death of approximately 130000 persons. It all happened a few kilometers away from our borders: in Puglia we saw F104 taking off from Italian air force bases, ready to bomb Serbian positions during Kosovo war and rockets were deployed on our beaches in protection from retaliation.

I did not understand such slaughter: Yugoslavia was a developed and prosperous country that colonel Tito managed to steer firmly for almost forty years after the end of World War II, navigating through cold war perils while maintaining peace among many different ethnic populations living within its borders.

Flashback to the sixteenth century, when great Mimar Sinan, Hayruddin master, disseminated Ottoman Empire of remarkable landmarks. One of the most accomplished displays of his craftsmanship was the bridge on Drina river in Višegrad, built in 1577 and named after Mehmed Paša Sokolović, that became four centuries later the splendid scenery where the epic plot narrated by Ivo Andrić in The Bridge on the Drina unfolds.

Artillery had been silenced for a while at the time when I read the novel. I found there answers to all my questions about wars in ex-Yugoslavia: stories of the generations living near Višegrad bridge were the best illustration of how Bosnia-Herzegovina was cursed by both history and geography, condemned to be one of the sharpest friction points between Arab and European civilizations, “impersonated” in that region by Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.  My Bosnian ex-girlfriend mom used to say that in Balkans every generation has to live through three wars; according to this rule current generations are safe, what about the future ones?

Few writers reached Ivo Andrić heights in representing events that shaped Western world history and among them I surely count Ernest Hemingway, one of my youth literary heroes. Talking about bridges, “Old man at the bridge”, first published in May 1938 and later included in “The first forty-nine short stories“, is a little shining literary gem where, in purest Hemingway style, no word is redundant. Bridges are a great writers affair.



Old man at the bridge

An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.
It was my business to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced. I did this and returned over the bridge. There were not so many carts now and very few people on foot, but the old man was still there.
“Where do you come from?” I asked him.
“From San Carlos,” he said, and smiled.
That was his native town and so it gave him pleasure to mention it and he smiled.
“I was taking care of animals,” he explained. “Oh,” I said, not quite understanding.
“Yes,” he said, “I stayed, you see, taking care of animals. I was the last one to leave the town of San Carlos.”
He did not look like a shepherd nor a herdsman and I looked at his black dusty clothes and his gray dusty face and his steel rimmed spectacles and said, “What animals were they?”
“Various animals,” he said, and shook his head. “I had to leave them.”
I was watching the bridge and the African looking country of the Ebro Delta and wondering how long now it would be before we would see the enemy, and listening all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact, and the old man still sat there.
“What animals were they?” I asked.
“There were three animals altogether,” he explained. “There were two goats and a cat and then there were four pairs of pigeons.”
“And you had to leave them?” I asked.
“Yes. Because of the artillery. The captain told me to go because of the artillery.”
“And you have no family?” I asked, watching the far end of the bridge where a few last carts were hurrying down the slope of the bank.
“No,” he said, “only the animals I stated. The cat, of course, will be all right. A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others.”
“What politics have you?” I asked.
“I am without politics,” he said. “I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometers now and I think now I can go no further.” “This is not a good place to stop,” I said. “If you can make it, there are trucks up the road where it forks for Tortosa.”
“I will wait a while,” he said, “and then I will go. Where do the trucks go?”
“Towards Barcelona,” I told him.
“I know no one in that direction,” he said, “but thank you very much. Thank you again very much.”
He looked at me very blankly and tiredly, then said, having to share his worry with some one, “The cat will be all right, I am sure. There is no need to be unquiet about the cat. But the others. Now what do you think about the others?”
“Why they’ll probably come through it all right.” “You think so?”
“Why not,” I said, watching the far bank where now there were no carts.
“But what will they do under the artillery when I was told to leave because of the artillery?”
“Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?” I asked. “Yes.”
“Then they’ll fly.”
“Yes, certainly they’ll fly. But the others. It’s better not to think about the others,” he said.
“If you are rested I would go,” I urged. “Get up and try to walk now.”
“Thank you,” he said and got to his feet, swayed from side to side and then sat down backwards in the dust.
“I was taking care of animals,” he said dully, but no longer to me. “I was only taking care of animals.”

There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old man would ever have.


Post Scriptum

Ernest Hemingway had a passion for Spain and a long time ago inspired me for a 5000 Kilometers drive through Andalusia and Algarve, two regions that, despite being in the heart of Christian Europe, were ruled for centuries by Moors and went under the name of Al-Andalus. Spanish Catholic kings finally conquered back Al-Andalus but for long the lower part of Iberic Peninsula, likewise Balkans, was a perilous bridge between civilizations. During my road trip, I walked across the bridge that joins the two parts of Ronda and was impressed by its daring architecture.  This story started flowing under the stones of the old bridge in Mostar and comes to its end on Puente Nuevo in Ronda; The great Sinan would have loved it.

(Ulaanbataar, 23 of April 2017)

16 snapshots – March ’17

16 snapshots – March ’17

My destiny is not yet to settle down and as life takes me to unexpected places, I look at things around me with endless curiosity. There is so much beauty to be found in this world.

All pictures but the last one (that was sent to me by a friend who went diving in Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia) are taken with my phone and have been slightly enhanced.


More travel photography on this blog

Walk away

Walk away

 “I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.”
― Bruce Chatwin


Far away from home

There once was a king in India, a Maharajah, and for his birthday, a decree went out that all the chiefs should bring gifts fit for a king. Some brought fine silk, some brought fancy swords, some brought gold. At the end of the line, came walking a very wrinkled little old man, who walked up from his village in a many days journey by the sea and as he walked up the king son asked: “what gift did you bring for the king?” and the old man, slowly opened his hand to reveal a very beautiful sea shell with spirals of purple and yellow, red and blue.

The king son said: That is not a gift for a king! What kind of gift is that?”

The old man looked at him slowly and said: “Long walk, part of gift”.



Your turn now

It works better in nature; in a park or in a wood, preferably on a day when the sky is blue and the air is fresh. Leave your mobile phone at home or in your car. If you can, wear comfortable clothes and shoes and forget your looks as they will not be of any use. You are out for a walking meditation and, for a few minutes, please just be alone with yourself. Once you arrive in the place you chose, stand still for a short while: allow your body to get acquainted with the surroundings. Then start walking, keeping a pace slightly slower than normal.

Make a few steps in a straight direction and start relaxing your body: relax your neck and shoulder; if it helps, draw a few circles with your head: look at your right, then down, then left, finally up and repeat slowly.

There is no hurry: for a few minutes, you won’t be running after any short-term objective or self-satisfaction.

Put your attention on colors, lights, sounds surrounding you, your body temperature, the breeze caressing your face, your relaxed muscles and start breathing deeply, a bit slower than usual. Then pay a little more attention to the rhythm of your breath. Breathe in deeply and, as you fill your lungs with fresh air, raise slowly your chin. Then breathe out slowly and do it again and again. At a certain point, while you breathe, a smile should appear spontaneously on your lips; do nothing and leave it there. You are now connected to your body.

Now connect with the ground and your walking nature: remember, you have to walk slightly slower than usual. At every step, push your mind in your foot as it makes contact with the ground. It is important that you feel the contact between your foot and the ground at each step, while your mind waves circulate freely between your breath and muscles, the lights, colors, sounds around you.

Now it is time to establish a trustful link with yourself. While you walk, allow your mind to explore: some say that meditation is about emptying your mind while I would say it is the opposite:  be open to any kind of thoughts without confronting them. Maintain the connection between your feet and the ground and continue breathing slowly; let your thoughts blow freely like wind in the open space of your mind and do not cherish one more than another. Be fair to them all: do not get attached to any particular thought. If anything from inside or outside comes harming your mindfulness, acknowledge its presence in a detached way and continue walking and breathing slowly.

Go on like that for a few minutes, step after step, breath after breath, thought after thought; be attentive to what happens and stay connected to everything around and inside you. Then, just slow down until you stop, look around for a last time and finally close your eyes slowly. It is over.

It works better in nature and it does not take much time. All you need is your feet, lungs, thoughts, some fresh air, your chin and lips; it is really simple. Get off your car, let go of your phone and sorrows. Embrace and enjoy your thoughts, breath, smile. Go out for a walk with the best of yourself.


Credits

I heard the story that opens this post in a TED talk named “Swallowing the sword, cutting through Fear” by Dan Meyer. If you have a few spare minutes, watch it. Among other things, you will learn how to make the impossible possible and the difference between danger and fear.

I would like to credit Joshi Daniels for the picture titled “En route”, above.

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Fisherman blues: travel images and poetry

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Fisherman Blues

Fisherman Blues


Blue boats on a blue sea.
In the inlet of thought
suppressed,
they look but do not see.

The treasure of the depths
caught in the net of the eye.
The scent of life
captured by the memory.

A tranquil blues
of the water and the sky
sparkles like the priceless gems
gathered in peace.

The moments lost
in perpetual motion
immerse in the stillness
of the silver eve.

Copyright © 2016 Kat


Note: Sea is fascinating and soothing. It speaks a mysterious language of travels, colors, culture, traditions, pain and pleasure. I wanted to share images captured in different places and I asked my friend Kat in the Afterlight to put her words on my pics. And she sang the fisherman blues.

Thanks Kat, vaya con Dios!

If you speak Italian, you can also read Mare s. m. [lat. mare]

 

Smile Cambodia

DSC_7483

Siem Reap and ancient Angkor

It was March 2014 and I was lounging on a couch in an hotel named Indochine, in the small town of a Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was sipping a drink by the hotel pool after a day spent visiting ancient Angkor archeological site and, as I often do on a trip, I was reading about history of the place on internet, when suddenly the cruelty of mankind struck me, like a punch in the stomach.

Siem Reap is known to South East Asia travelers for being the closest town to Angkor, ancient capital of Khmer empire. Its streets are not paved; dry heat and wind raise dust clouds and make breathing difficult for those venturing out in the hot hours. Besides Angkor Wat, the town has a charme of its own and among its landmarks, I noted the French market, with its typical colonial layout, now lined up with tourist restaurants and the old market stalls where dried fish, colored vegetables, spices and Kampot pepper can be bought for as little as 1 USD.

Siem Reap is crossed by the river that bears the same name. The river banks host terraced restaurants where travelers and locals mingle and dine. While going for a stroll by the river banks at sunset, dim electric lights appears here and there while daylight goes down and the town finds itself floating in an uncommon darkness, reminiscing Indochine French colony times.

Ancient Angkor area is a place that forces Westerners, born and bred in culture of European cultural supremacy, to reconsider their beliefs about art, religion  and many other things.

Angkor Wat site plan

While the archeological site is often referred to with the name of the most well-known temple, it encompasses a wealth of other amazing heritage buildings.

Angkor Wat temple initial design and construction took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Khmer king Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king’s state temple and capital city. Toward the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed from a Hindu center of worship to Buddhism.

Thanks to Naomi Leeman for her sketches above.

The outer gallery of the Angkor Wat temple measures 187 x 215 meters (614 x 705 feet). On the second level, it measures 100 x 115 meters (328 x 377 feet). The inner gallery is a 60 x 60 meter (197 x 197 feet) square area. The tower above the central shrine rises 65 meters (213 feet) above the ground. These dimensions bring Angkor Wat to top the ranking of biggest religious buildings in the world.

Despite the fact that the temple of Angkor Wat was never abandoned by the Cambodians and continued to be an important spiritual center for hundreds of years after Angkor capital city and Khmer empire collapse, a widespread belief wants that French explorer and researcher Henri Mouhot, “discovered Angkor” in 1860.

I smile thinking of Monsieur Mouhot, in 1860, “discovering” the biggest temple in the world and I like to imagine this happening in the middle of a worshipping ceremony; once again, well done the Colonial history-makers!

I leave to Alison Carter and her well-documented blog the easy task to demonstrate how the notion of “discovery” is usually associated to previously unknown things.

Like everybody else, I was in Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat.

And here comes the part that is hard to swallow, the one that I re-learned by the hotel pool in that March afternoon, thanks to modern technologies and Wikipedia that gives you access to instant knowledge about everything, everywhere. I say re-learned because, while reading, childhood memories awakened and I remembered how words “Khmer Rouge” often resonated in Italian TV news on in late seventies and sounded tragic and mysterious back then.

All facts below are quoted from “Khmer Rouge” Wikipedia page. I invite curious readers to refer to that page and learn more about historical context that lead to such sad events.

Also, movie The Missing Picture by Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh uses clay figures, archival footage, and his narration to recreate the atrocities of Khmer Rouge and won the  Un Certain Regard section top prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Where Khmer Rouge came from

During the 1950s, Khmer students in Paris organized their own communist movement, which had little, if any, connection to the hard-pressed party in their homeland. From their ranks came the men and women who returned home and took command of the party apparatus during the 1960s, led an effective insurgency against Lon Nol from 1968 until 1975, and established the regime of Democratic Kampuchea.

Pol Pot, who rose to the leadership of the communist movement in the 1960s, was born in 1928 (some sources say 1925) in Kampong Thum Province, northeast of Phnom Penh. He attended a technical high school in the capital and then went to Paris in 1949 to study radio electronics (other sources say he attended a school for printers and typesetters and also studied civil engineering).

The leadership of the Khmer Rouge remained largely unchanged from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. The leaders were mostly from middle-class families and had been educated at French universities.

The Standing Committee of the Khmer Rouge’s Central Committee during its period of power consisted of:

  • Pol Pot (Saloth Sar) (died 1998), “Brother number 1”, General Secretary from 1963 until his death, effectively the leader of the movement
  • Nuon Chea (Long Bunruot), “Brother number 2”, Prime Minister, arrested in 2007, high status made him Pol Pot’s “right-hand man”, sentenced to life in prison on 7 Aug 2014
  • Ieng Sary (Pol Pot’s brother-in-law) (died in custody awaiting trial for genocide, March 14, 2013), “Brother number 3”, Deputy Prime Minister, arrested in 2007
  • Khieu Samphan, “Brother number 4”, President of Democratic Kampuchea, arrested in 2007, sentenced to life in prison on 7 Aug 2014
  • Ta Mok (Chhit Chhoeun) (died July 21, 2006), “Brother number 5”, Southwest Regional Secretary, final Khmer Rouge leader, died in custody awaiting trial for genocide
  • Son Sen (died 1997), “Brother number 89”, Defense Minister, Superior of Kang Kek Iew. Assassinated on Pol Pot’s orders for treason.
  • Yun Yat (died 1997)
  • Ke Pauk (died 2002), “Brother number 13”, former secretary of the Northern zone
  • Ieng Thirith, (died 2015) arrested in 2007, sister-in-law of Pol Pot, former Social Affairs Minister, deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012.

Destruction of a country

Khmer Rouge, captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 marking the beginning of their four years rule on Cambodia.

  • During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, while executing selected groups who they believed were enemies of the state or spies or had the potential to undermine the new state.
  • Estimates as to how many people were killed by the regime range from approximately one to three million; the most commonly cited figure is two million (about a quarter of Cambodia population).
  • Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from all foreign influences, closing schools, hospitals, and factories, abolishing banking, finance, and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people from urban areas to collective farms where forced labour was widespread. The purpose of this policy was to turn Cambodians into “Old People” through agricultural labour.
  • In Phnom Penh and other cities, the Khmer Rouge told residents that they would be moved only about “two or three kilometers” outside the city and would return in “two or three days”. Some witnesses say they were told that the evacuation was because of the “threat of American bombing” and that they did not have to lock their houses since the Khmer Rouge would “take care of everything” until they returned. People who refused to evacuate would have their homes burned to the ground and would be killed immediately. The evacuees were sent on long marches to the countryside, which killed thousands of children, elderly people, and sick people.
  • The Khmer Rouge attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing the urban population (“New People”) into agricultural communes. The entire population was forced to become farmers in labour camps. Cambodians were expected to produce three tons of rice per hectare; before the Khmer Rouge era, the average was only one ton per hectare.
  • Such acts as picking wild fruit or berries were seen as “private enterprise” and punished by death.
  • The Khmer Rouge forced people to work for 12 hours non-stop, without adequate rest or food. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation.
  • They did not believe in western medicine but turned to traditional medicine instead; because of the famine, forced labour, and the lack of access to appropriate services there was a high number of human losses.
  • Commercial fishing was banned in 1976, resulting in a loss of primary food sources for millions of Cambodians, 80% of whom rely on fish as their only source of animal protein.
  • Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered to make the agricultural communism, as Pol Pot envisioned it, a reality. The planned relocation to the countryside resulted in the complete halting of almost all economic activity
  • Schools and hospitals were closed, as well as banks, and even industrial and service companies. Banks were raided and all currency and records were destroyed by fire thus eliminating any claim to funds.
  • Anyone with connections to the former Cambodian government or with foreign governments was executed.
  • Cham Muslims suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated.
  • Deaths during the Khmer Rouge era reduced the Vietnamese population in Cambodia from between 250,000 and 300,000 in 1969 to a reported 56,000 in 1984.
  • Most of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime were not ethnic minorities but ethnic Khmer.
  • People perceived as intellectuals or even those who had stereotypical signs of learning, such as glasses which, according to the regime, meant that they spent too much time reading books instead of working, would be killed. Ironically, Pol Pot himself was an educated man with a taste for French literature and spoke fluent French.
  • Many artists, including musicians, writers, and filmmakers were executed. Some like Ros Serey SotheaPan Ron, and Sinn Sisamouth gained posthumous fame for their talents and are still popular with Khmers today.
  • Ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Thai, and other minorities in the Eastern Highlands were persecuted.
  • “Economic saboteurs” – many former urban dwellers were deemed guilty of sabotage due to their lack of agricultural ability.
  • Professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers, were targeted.
  • People would be executed for attempting to escape from the communes or for breaching minor rules. If caught, offenders were taken quietly off to a distant forest or field after sunset and killed.
  • All religion was banned by the Khmer Rouge. Any people seen taking part in religious rituals or services would be executed. Several thousand Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians were killed for exercising their beliefs.
  • The Roman Catholic cathedral of Phnom Penh was razed. The Khmer Rouge forced Muslims to eat pork, which they regard as forbidden (ḥarām). Many of those who refused were killed. Christian clergy and Muslim imams were executed.
  • Family relationships not sanctioned by the state were also banned, and family members could be put to death for communicating with each other.
  • Married couples were only allowed to visit each other on a limited basis. If people were seen being engaged in sexual activity, they would be killed immediately.
  • Almost all freedom to travel was abolished.
  • Almost all privacy was eliminated during the Khmer Rouge era. People were not allowed to eat in privacy; instead, they were required to eat with everyone in the commune.
  • All personal utensils were banned, and people were given only one spoon to eat with.
  • In any case, family members were often relocated to different parts of the country with all postal and telephone services abolished.

Fall of Khmer Rouge

On April 18, 1978, Pol Pot, fearing a Vietnamese attack, ordered a pre-emptive invasion of Vietnam. His Cambodian forces crossed the border and looted nearby villages, mostly in the border town of Ba Chúc. Of the 3,157 civilians who had lived in Ba Chúc, only two survived the massacre. These Cambodian forces were repelled by the Vietnamese.

By December 1978, due to several years of border conflict and the flood of refugees fleeing Kampuchea, relations between Cambodia and Vietnam collapsed.

On December 25, 1978, the Vietnamese armed forces, along with the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation, an organization that included many dissatisfied former Khmer Rouge members, invaded Cambodia and captured Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979.

At the same time, the Khmer Rouge retreated west, and it continued to control certain areas near the Thai border for the next decade

Despite its deposal, the Khmer Rouge retained its United Nations seat, which was occupied by Thiounn Prasith, an old compatriot of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary from their student days in Paris, and one of the 21 attendees at the 1960 KPRP Second Congress. The seat was retained under the name “Democratic Kampuchea” until 1982, and then under the name “Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea“. Western governments voted in favor of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea retaining Cambodia’s seat in the organization over the newly installed Vietnamese-backed PRK, even though it included the Khmer Rouge. Margaret Thatcher stated: “So, you’ll find that the more reasonable ones of the Khmer Rouge will have to play some part in the future government, but only a minority part. I share your utter horror that these terrible things went on in Kampuchea.”

Sweden on the contrary changed its vote in the U.N. and withdrew its support for the Khmer Rouge after a large number of Swedish citizens wrote letters to their elected representatives demanding a policy change towards Pol Pot’s regime.

Across the years and until 1998, Khmer Rouge remained active, thanks to military and political support from China, U.S., Great Britain and many others.

By 1980, Eastern and central Cambodia were firmly under the control of Vietnam and its Cambodian, while the western part of the country continued to be a battlefield throughout the 1980s and millions of landmines were sown across the countryside.

Although Pol Pot relinquished the Khmer Rouge leadership to Khieu Samphan in 1985, he continued to be the driving force behind the Khmer Rouge insurgency.

In 1985 Vietnam declared that it would complete the withdrawal of its forces from Cambodia by 1990 and it did so in 1989, having allowed the government that it had installed there to consolidate its rule and gain sufficient military strength.

After a decade of inconclusive conflict, the pro-Vietnamese Cambodian government and the coalition of rebel forces opposing it signed a treaty in 1991 calling for elections and disarmament. In 1992, however, the Khmer Rouge resumed fighting, boycotted the election and, in the following year, rejected its results.

There was a mass defection from the Khmer Rouge in 1996, when around half of its remaining soldiers (about 4,000) left. In 1997, a bloody factional fighting among the Khmer Rouge leaders exploded, ultimately leading to Pol Pot’s trial and imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot died in April 1998. Khieu Samphan surrendered in December.

On December 29, 1998, the remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge apologized for the 1970s genocide. By 1999, most members had surrendered or been captured.

Since 1990 Cambodia has gradually recovered, demographically and economically, from the Khmer Rouge regime, although the psychological scars affect many Cambodian families and émigré communities. It is noteworthy that Cambodia has a very young population and by 2003 three-quarters of Cambodians were too young to remember the Khmer Rouge era. Nonetheless, their generation is affected by the traumas of the past.

Members of this younger generation may know of the Khmer Rouge only through word of mouth from parents and elders. In part, this is because the government does not require that educators teach children about Khmer Rouge atrocities in the schools. However, Cambodia’s Education Ministry started to teach Khmer Rouge history in high schools beginning in 2009. China has defended its ties with the Khmer Rouge. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “The government of Democratic Kampuchea had a legal seat at the United Nations, and had established broad foreign relations with more than 70 countries”.

End of the story

This is the end of the story: in just four years of ruling, Khmer Rouge managed to eliminate one fourth of Cambodia population. They left a nation inhabited by ghosts and orphans, where men and women bringing the scars of landmines are not an uncommon sight. Still sun rises and sets everyday on the timeless beauty of ancient Angkor stones and kids play up and down those stones and have beautiful smiles on their faces.

I wish Cambodia a future that smiles as brightly as those kids. I hope men will not reach similar levels of cruelty again. I hope things like these will never ever happen again.

Continue reading “Smile Cambodia”