While on the tuktuk ride to Choeung Ek many of my fellow members in the group who were from a western countries talking about atrocities caused by Khmer Rouge. It was interesting for me to hear many tourists visiting from western countries are disgusted by the atrocities caused by the Pol pot regime but little did they know how western world and especially United States was instrumental in initiating the Cambodian civil war which eventually led to the Cambodian genocide. However western involvement in Cambodia was viewed vastly differently by different demographics. When the rich and powerful war criminals like Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon were dropping 300 million tons of bombs in Cambodian country side, good people of the United States did fight back Some of them even died in the Kent State shooting fighting against the Cambodia involvement by Nixon regime in Kent State University, Ohio. At the end like any interventional regime change that US get itself into, the Cambodian people are the one who paid the extreme cost of it!
I thought I have seen it all in Tuol Sleng until I came to Choeung Ek killing center. Choeung Ek used to be a cemetery for Chinese people who lived in Cambodia. Later on Khmer Rouge used it as their killing center to execute people. Right in the middle of Choeung Ek you can see a huge Stupa built for victims of Cambodian genocide, it is filled with skulls and bones of many Cambodians who were killed in the genocide. Along the way I was able to see many points where people were brought in trucks to be executed. After walking around for a while I came across a sign saying mass grave yard of 450 victims. You can also get an audio tour for free so along the way I was able to listen stories of Cambodian people who survived or unfortunately perished in the genocide. Then there was a stop that said mass grave of 166 victims with out heads [sic]. Then there was a glass box full of clothes worn by people who were killed here. In the audio tour, I got to know during the rainy season you can still see some clothing and bones of the people who were killed here.
Then I came to another land mark which was one of the most heartbreaking part in Choeung Ek. It was called the killing tree. This killing tree was used by Khmer Rouge cadres to kill small children, so they beat those children’s head until they die. I also got to know that in order to prevent anyone from hearing the agony and cry from dying people Khmer Rouge cadres put loud Cambodian music so that no outsiders know about the things happening inside Choeung Ek. Now people put small colored ropes to commemorate children who were killed in the killing tree. Then I came across a part in the killing center which was covered in glass and underneath it there were skulls and bones of the victims of Cambodian genocide. Then I came back to the main stupa and went inside. Inside the stupa you can see all the skulls were classified according to the kind of injury they had. Bones were also classified according to age and gender.
Outside of Choeung Ek there was a museum describing Khmer Rouge and what happened to them after the defeat. Khmer rouge was not made up of people from other countries or other ethnicities, most of them were Cambodians. It was Cambodians with power killing other Cambodians who did not have power. It reminded me of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment. When you give people authority and power they will take it to any extent, I think that is exactly what happened during Khmer Rouge. The killings in Cambodia were done so covertly that no one else outside of Cambodia and even some people in Cambodia didn’t know there were massive scale of killings happening in Cambodia. From my audio tour I learnt that they blast loud music in Choeung Ek so that people crying in agony of death won’t be heard by anyone else outside. After the Cambodian genocide was revealed to the entire world when Vietnam invaded Cambodia, many high ranking officials in Khmer Rouge denied any allegations against them. Leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot never went to prison for his wrongdoing. Many other officials were convicted fairly recently and they were given light sentences compared to their atrocious killings. What is interesting is that most of them denied any wrongdoing.
It was really heartbreaking to see what Cambodians went through in such a short period of time. Because of this genocide, currently majority of Cambodians are under the age of 30. Despite this setback the tenacity of Cambodians are commendable in many ways. Despite these dark scars human race is still involved in many genocides including the one in Sri Lanka against Tamils. I hope there will be a time where we realize that killing other people are not going to solve the problem.
After seeing the scars of Cambodian genocide, I came back to the hostel around 4pm. The rest of the day I spent time packing since the next day will be my last day in Cambodia. I didn’t realize how 13 days passed so quickly! (To be continued…)