The Choeung EK Genocidal Centre is where around 20,000 people, mostly Cambodians but foreigners too were murdered by the ultra communist Khmer Rouge Regime.
I know what you’re thinking right, after the North Korea/China experience, take a break from the communism! It certainly doesn’t sit well with me, and on one too many occasions, has felt slightly too close for comfort.
However, Cambodia is different. The place (or what I have seen so far) possesses vibrancy, the most friendly of people, every colour of the rainbow EVERYWHERE (I have never seen so many colours on one pyjama suit wearing lady before until now) and a real air of laid-back, chillaxing and appreciating each other.
If you didn’t know the history, on first glance, you could barely guess at all.
I am here to teach dance and choreograph for Epic Arts, a British and Khmer led NGO situated in Kampot. Therefore, I am going to be teaching, choreographing and working with Cambodians all the time.
Between 1975-1979 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered, out of a population of 7 million. Thats just the people murdered, not the people who walked day and night for days on end to Thailand to escape, or the people who survived the torture of the work and starvation in the provinces after being evacuated from the cities.
Chances are, all of my future colleagues and people I am going to teach and choreograph on have been affected by the Khmer Rouge.
And as soon as you take a closer look, you can see signs of this all around you (but I will go into this in more detail again). “Cambodia is still struggling to deal with its history, where personal memory is politicised and the spectre of the Khmer Rouge is ever-present but often wilfully ignored” (The Guardian).
The Killing Fields show the horror of 129 mass graves and the findings of over 8000 human skulls. Bones and bits of clothing of the deceased keep rising to the surface of the ground, meaning at points during the tour of the place, you are walking on (or purposefully avoiding) human bones.
There were points were there was a human tooth on a tree, or a bone.
But what really hit home to me about what I was actually seeing, was a pair of shorts obviously worn by a little boy. We have all seen human skulls on the telly or in films or museums and although these were real and certainly shocking, the truth of how recently this happened was not fully realised until I saw these shorts. They looked like a pair of shorts a wee boy would wear now. And that suddenly made me realise just how recently this dreadful crimes happened. It sounds silly, but we have even seen bones in museums, and the age of them is not always apparent. It was the shorts, however that really allowed me to appreciate that this actually happened in the 70s. When my Mam was going to Pink Floyd gigs in her Afghan coat.
Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge lost power in Cambodia in 1979, however still had a seat in the United Nations, despite this mass murdering communist regime he had been leading here, until 1991.
He lived a seemingly pleasant life after power; however there are still signs all around Cambodia that demonstrate the effect his Communist Regime that show a more sorrowful story, and one that has effected every generation since.
What justice is there for Cambodians, or even understanding of this Genocide (can it even be called this when most of the murderers were Khmer)? The Khmer Rouge tribunal is ongoing, and has been for nine years. It has sentenced three people. However it is only pursuing senior leaders. Meaning the vast majority of those involved continue to live quiet lives, despite their involvement in such a regime being most definitely known.
What scares me most is that a lot of Cambodian politicians, even now, were part of the regime, including the current Prime Minister (source – The Guardian).
For me, and for all at Epic Arts, it was important that we visited The Killing Fields, and started to really get a sense for what the people that we are about to be working with have been through.
It is very apparent, that although a now peaceful nation with many a smiling, pleasant, friendly face, that the effects of this are still being felt.