When traveling in Cambodia, you learn about their history, their painful and recent past. Sadly, I knew very little about the genocide in Cambodia before this trip. But I met people who lost their families during the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). We went to the Choeung Ek Genodical Center in Phnom Penh to learn more.
CHOEUNG EK GENOCIDAL CENTER
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is one of the most famous and visited of the killing fields in Cambodia. It contains a memorial stupa for those who lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge and tells the story of many of the prisoners who were executed at Choeung Ek. It was an emotional visit seeing the killing fields where so many innocent people lost their lives.
The walk begins passing by the memorial stupa which houses many of the bones of the nearly 9,000 people who lost their lives at Choeung Ek.
Next, you pass by the truck stop, which was the site where prisoners were either taken for further detention or to be executed.
You pass by the sites of many mass graves where hundreds of bodies were piled into pits. The bones from the graves have been exumed and are now housed in the memorial stupa. The wooden borders around these graves are decorated with bracelets as memorials and tributes to those who were murdered at Choeung Ek.
The saddest and most disturbing site at Choeung Ek is the tree where many of the children were killed. Children were beaten against the tree before their bodies were thrown into the mass grave.
Choeung Ek is only one of dozens of other killing fields across Cambodia that comprise more than 20,000 mass graves. Over 1.3 million Cambodians were executed at killing fields during the Khmer Rouge and it is estimated that an additional one million died of starvation or disease. Over 2.5 million Cambodians out of 8 million (30% of their population) died during the Khmer Rouge. And you can see this in the Cambodian population today. Their population is skewed – you see very few people in their 60s and 70s.
I think it’s important to learn about the past to understand the current situation in Cambodia, the poverty, poor sanitation, lack of education and lack of healthcare. So many people were killed during the Khmer Rouge and mostly the wealthy, elite, the business people, the educated. The country is still recovering from this loss.