By Sothy Kien
1949 is the year many Khmer Krom people remember with great pain and sorrow. On June 4th 1949, France transferred Cochin China, the (French name ) ancestral homeland of the Khmer Krom people to the Vietnamese.
It was a heart wrenching decision made without the full participation or consent of the indigenous Khmer Krom people, who are the original owners of the land.
Imagine if your home and rich fertile rice fields were systematically taken from you. If you were forced to assimilate into the Vietnamese culture and forced to abandon your historic ties to motherland Cambodia?
How much pain, anger, sorrow and bitterness would you feel?
Worse, if you know up until this day, land grabbing still continues and people and Buddhist monks alike are being tortured and imprisoned for demanding religious freedom and basic rights?
For decades, commemorating the loss of Kampuchea-Krom remains a significant event for the Khmer Krom and Khmer people to remember the injustice by the French and the Vietnamese. This event also gives us the opportunity to remember the people who sacrificed their lives to protect our land and culture.
Such event is forbidden by the communist Vietnam government.
In countries outside of Vietnam, it appears however, that each year less and less people are participating.
To resolve this increasingly bleak trend, this year, Khmer Krom people in Australia introduced a new concept calling the event, “Khmer Krom Day.”
Often in developed countries such as Australia, Australia Day is a day in which the people celebrate the unique diversity of all of its cultures and peoples.
For the Khmer Krom people, some would argue that they have no country in which to celebrate. In fact, if Khmer Krom Day was on the basis of the ideology of loss of Kampuchea-Krom, there should be little to celebrate.
Khmer Krom Day, or Tivea Khmer Krom is a new concept that incorporates not only the commemoration of the loss of Kampuchea-Krom but it is also an event that hopes to inspire positive and proactive movement towards human rights realisation.
Khmer Krom Day is not about celebrating the loss of Kampuchea-Krom but it is about giving credit and gratitude to those who are our everyday heroes, who are putting their lives on the line to preserve our culture, dignity and identity.
The people include but are not limited to members of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation such as Mr. Thach Ngoc Thach, Mr. Sereivuth and Mr. Tran Giap who have quitted their full time job to work for the cause of Khmer Krom.
What about our people in Cambodia and Vietnam, for example, Venerable Tim Sakhorn who is currently in prison for helping Khmer Krom cross the border? What about our five defrocked monks who organised the peaceful protests demanding greater religious freedom, only be rudely defrocked and thrown in jail for four years?
What about Chau Inn, who stood up to demand the return of his ancestral homeland, only to be hunted down like animals in the middle of the night, his family members were shot and now he is missing?
When do we get an opportunity to say prays for these brave souls and give them credit and gratitude for their courage to continue to keep the Khmer Krom struggles alive?
Khmer Krom Day is not just about remembering our heroes but also to thank our current activists and hope that by reflecting on such a day, we can start to inspire greater hope for the future.
Hopes will be the fuel and energy for the future work of human rights activists.
The Khmer Krom community in Australia took one step further by asking a high ranked Australian government representative of Vietnamese descendent to attend the event. It was a big step and very risky for the Khmer Krom people and was received with mixed emotions.
Some were against the idea stating that it was inappropriate and asked what Vietnamese people would really know about how much it hurts or ways to help the Khmer Krom.
Surprisingly, the special guest was moved to tears when he heard about what the Vietnamese government was doing to the Khmer Krom people.
He encouraged and highlighted the importance of knowing one’s culture and identity. He urged the members to keep fighting to keep their identity and human rights for their people. He have made promise to help bringing up the issues to the Australian government.
This concept of Khmer Krom is actually also about sharing the pain.
For decades, the loss of Kampuchea-Krom has been an event only for Khmer and Khmer Krom. As a result very few people who are either Khmer nor Khmer Krom knew anything about our pain or what losing Kampuchea-Krom meant.
If you want people to understand how much you hurt or how you feel about their actions, why not get them involved?
There is no doubt that a powerful message is portrayed to the world if all of Khmer Krom people stood up for what we believe in but won’t it be equally astounding if a Vietnamese stood up for Khmer Krom?
Khmer Krom Day if supported, has the potential to change the face of Khmer Krom human rights movement and maybe the tool to inspire for the greater future.
Will you mark Khmer Krom Day in your calendar?