A Dark Past: The Cry of the Khmer Rouge

We all know that part of planning a trip is browsing the Internet in search for ‘Things to do’, or a list of tourist destinations that you wish to see. We came across one of the must visit in Phnom Penh, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center or known as the “Killing Fields”.

From the term “Killing Field” you can probably guess what really happened there. It was interesting because “Why do they have a killing field?”

We were told to take cab instead of tuk-tuk because Choeung Ek Genocidal Center was a bit far and the road to get there was rough and super dusty! When we booked one, we told the driver to take us to the Killing Fields, but he insisted we head to Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum, the Securiy Prison 21 (S-21) first to understand the history better.  Great advice!

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A school turned into a prison during the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia’s dark past started in 1975, when Khmer Rouge, a communist party of Kampuchea led by Pol Pot defeated Lon Nol’s forces and finally took over Phnom Penh.

If I understood it correctly, what the Khmer Rouge wanted was to bring Cambodia back to the uncivilized world, doing rural work focusing on agriculture, money was of no value, it was completely non-existent. Knowledge and having it was a crime, and if you have this you’d be tortured and executed. In short, it aimed Cambodia to be back to nothing, a world of ignorance maybe?

Hard labor, starvation, brutal killings were experienced during this period.  The school was transformed to a prison and here prisoners were interrogated & tortured in different ways.

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 Prisoners were sometimes photographed before and after the brutal torture.

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Those who were brought in to S21 prison would mean execution.  Once in, there was no way out.  They were forced to admit to a crime they never committed.  The educated ones like lawyers, teachers, doctors were executed, and their families were not spared. Pol Pot believed that people of this kind would overthrow him, and would aid for Khmer Rouge to collapse.

After days of torture, prisoners were taken to their final destination, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.

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It was an audio tour, and you will be directed to head to a numbered location and hear stories of what exactly happened there.

Execution Areas

Some of the mass graves found inside the killing field.  And as we reached the tree, I couldn’t believe what I was reading “Beat Children”, children – how could they involve an innocent one?  So brutal!

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skulls of some of the victims of the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge fell in 1979, when the Vietnamese forces entered Phnom Penh, almost 4 years only and it took millions of lives.  People were beaten to death, those who were not executed probably starved to death.  The forced labor made the people restless and weak.  It was like people were to choose between labor or death.  They were separated from their loved ones, some even after the regime fell never found their families.  Most children suffered from malnutrition, skin diseases, and they lost their families, it was like they died alone.

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I expected the trip to be “culture-filled” and assumed the memories to be nothing but happy. Ending it hearing sad stories like how even a child was beaten to death, can surely make one rage of anger.  How can someone so heartless ever existed?

Few days ago, we were seeing Cambodia differently, impressed by the gorgeousness of the palaces, amazing temples, good food, and friendly people. Cambodians struggled to rebuild what was taken from them during the Khmer Rouge.

To end this, sometimes learning the past can build better understanding and appreciation of what you have in the present. A dark past can help one become the brightest, not overnight of course.  Cambodians may still be struggling but they’re hopeful, and I believe that matters the most.

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