Cambodia MapIndustrious to destruction to industrious.

Cambodian history is complex and tortured. The good, the bad and the downright ugly is a simple way to sum it all up!  Life was favourable in the early years, culminating in the huge Angkor empire, unrivalled in the region during its four centuries of dominance. Then then bad times started when in the 13th century ascendant neighbours steadily chipped away at the small Cambodian empire. By the 20th century it became downright ugly, as a brutal civil war culminated in the evil genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1978. To this day Cambodia is still recovering from that terrible time.

 

Other than legend, the real history of Cambodia can be traced back to around the 5th millennium BC. Detailed records of a political organisation in Cambodia first appear in Chinese annals wth reference to Funan, a territory that enveloped the south part of the Indochinese peninsula during the 1st to 6th centuries AD. Funan is recognised as the oldest regional Hindu culture - With sustained socio-economic cooperation with maritime trading partners from other regions. By the 6th century a civilisation, called Chenla or Zhenla, clearly replaced Funan, controlling a much wider area.

The Khmer Empire was established by the early 9th century. A succession of mighty sovereigns, continuing the Hindu devaraja tradition, reigned over the era of Khmer civilization until the 11th century. After that a new dynasty of local origin introduced Buddhism. The royal chronology ends in the 14th century. Big achievements in agriculture, architecture, hydrology, administration, urban planning and the arts are evidence to a progressive and creative civilisation - A legacy of South eastern Asian culture.

But, the decline was inevitable and continued through a transitional period of approximately 100 years - Known as the Dark ages of Cambodia that started in the mid 15th century. Although the Hindu cults had mostly been replaced, the monuments in the old capital city remained an important spiritual centre. After the mid 15th century the core population steadily moved to the east and mostly settled at the junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers at Chaktomuk, Oudong and Longvek.

Maritime trade created a prosperous 16th century. Foreigners also entered, such as Muslim Malays and Christian Europeans. They increasingly influenced and disturbed government affairs. By the 15th century, the Khmers' traditional neighbours, were being replaced by the resilient Thai and Vietnamese. These new powers increasingly controlled the lower Mekong basin as the key to control all Indochina. As a result of a weak Khmer kingdom attacks on Khmer royal residences left sovereigns without a legitimate power base.

The 19th century saw the arrival of the more advanced and ambitious European colonial powers. With policies of global control they ended the regional feuds and Vietnam was part of the French colonial ambition. Cambodia became part of the French Indo-Chinese Union but was able to carry and reclaim its identity until modern times. The French ruled for 80 years but due to world war II and other circumstances the French appointed king Sihanouk which was the catalyst for the irreversible process towards independence in 1953.

The Kingdom of Cambodia (1953-1970) struggled to remain neutral in a polarised world dominated by the superpowers powers of the USA and Soviet Union. As the Vietnam war escalated Cambodia became increasingly involved resulting in the Khmer Republic in 1970 and a civil war. In 1975, abandoned and in the evil hands of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia began its ugly and most tortured time.

 

The Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge Images

In the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, it was responsible for one of the worst genocides of the 20th Century.  The brutal & evil regime, in power from 1975-1979, murdered around two million innocent people. Under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge in order to gain tight control, attempted to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people out of the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside without any modern technology, machines or decent tools. But this draconian attempt at social engineering had a terrible cost. Millions died, including women and children, from execution, torture, starvation, overwork and disease.

The Khmer Rouge was founded in the 1960s, as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea - The name the Communists used for Cambodia. Based in remote areas in the north-east of the country, the group initially made little headway. In 1970 a right-wing military coup toppled head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge entered into a political coalition with him and began to attract more support.

In the civil war that went on for nearly five years, it gradually increased its control in the countryside. Khmer Rouge forces finally took over the capital, Phnom Penh, and thus the nation as a whole, in 1975. When Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot came to power, he and his henchmen quickly set about transforming Cambodia, renaming it to Kampuchea, into what they hoped would become a communist utopia.

To gain hard-line control, he declared that the nation would re-start at "Year Zero". Pol Pot isolated the country from the rest of the world and emptied the cities, abolished money, private property and religion, and set up rural collectives. Anyone thought to have any intellect of any kind was killed. Often people were condemned to death just for wearing glasses or understanding a foreign language.

Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-classes were tortured and executed in special processing centres. The most notorious of these centres was the S-21 jail in Phnom Penh where around 17,000 men, women and children were imprisoned and tortured during the regime's domination. S-21 was a truly gruesome place with numerous rooms equipped for torture and minute cells where groups of people huddled together in fear, starving and in pain, listening to what was about to happen to themselves. Listening day and night to the screams of terrified people being barbarically tortured by truly evil bastards. Around two million others died from disease, starvation or exhaustion as members of the Khmer Rouge forced people to do back-breaking work or to face torture then death. There are no words to describe what these decent people had to endure!

 

End of Khmer Rouge and new beginnings

The Khmer Rouge government was finally ousted in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops after a succession of violent border confrontations.

In the following years, as Cambodia began the process of reopening to the international community, the full horrors of the regime became known. Survivors relived their stories to shocked audiences. The Hollywood movie, The Killing Fields, brought the plight of the Khmer Rouge victims to worldwide attention. Pol Pot was denounced by his former comrades in a show trial in 1997, and sentenced to house arrest in his jungle house. But less than a year later he died thereby denying the chance for millions of people, who were traumatised by this brutal regime, the opportunity to bring him to justice.

The atrocities are well documented and Cambodia is open about the brutal past in a hope that this will heal wounds and offer people a brighter future. The S-21 jail in now a gruesome visitor centre that explains and displays openly what happened in a way thay no visitor can forget.

New Cambodia - New Dawning

Editor's note: My name is Simon. I wrote this article and do hope that you enjoyed it as best as you could have! The time is now for Cambodia, and that's why I have changed the context of this article into what is happening now. And also from a more personal perspective because I have been there several times and Industasia would like to do business with Cambodia too. Cambodia is a heart-warming place, full of optimism (at least by the hard working locals that can mostly speak English!), but still poverty stricken while it tries to catch-up with the developing world. And believe me it is trying despite continued oppression and mis-understanding from outsiders! Cambodia is becoming an industrious and industrial place whilst maintaining the old charm.

After the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia was completely devastated, with little resources even to feed itself. The economy was shattered and financial assistance from outside was desperately needed. The most critical resource for rebuilding Cambodia, human capital, was almost non-existent. The huge majority of civil servants and intellectuals were executed by the Khmer Rouge or fled the country. This severely drained the prospects of rebuilding in nearly every sector. This is still an ongoing issue today.

Cambodia has made considerable efforts to deal with its past. Significant measures have been started and achieved. After the Khmer Rouge was removed from Phnom Penh, the new regime established the first genocide tribunal in the world - Prosecuting in absentia two Khmer Rouge leaders, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary. Immediate steps were taken to expose the crimes of the Khmer Rouge to the world. The secret torture prison, S-21, eventually became a Museum and the well known execution site called the Killing Fields became a memorial. Many other steps to condemn the Khmer Rouge were also taken.

Since the demise of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and following another two decades of civil war and internal strife, Cambodia has made huge steps towards securing lasting peace. The United Nations administered election in 1993 brought a sense of democracy to the country, opened its borders and freed up the economy. To a certain extent, Cambodia has dealt with its past, although the process is an ongoing saga. After a shaky start work has begun on educating the young about the country’s modern history. Also, much has been achieved by integrating former fighters into the population, but there is still a degree of distance between the former Khmer Rouge and victims. There is still a lot of work to do.

Now the economy of Cambodia follows an open market system and has experienced rapid economic progress in the last decade. Cambodia's two biggest industries are textiles, tourism, construction and light manufacturing, while agriculture remains the main source of income for many living in rural areas. The service sector is focussed on trading activities and catering related services.

Currently, Cambodia's foreign policy objectives are to maintain friendly borders with its neighbouring countries, as well as integrating itself into regional and global trading organisations. This in an emerging economy and still faces the usual inadequacies such as a lack of educated and skilled people, particularly in the still poverty-ridden countryside. However, Cambodia continues to attract investors because of its low wages, plentiful labour, proximity to Asian raw materials and business environment.

 

Visiting Cambodia

Cambodian BanknotesHave you ever seen inside a shop till in Cambodia these days? It tells a story of desperation and future hope! In Cambodia their own money, Cambodian Riel, serves as the loose change - Whilst the US dollar is the main accepted currency. They are available at most bank ATM's.

Cambodian Riel រៀល  KHR ៛

Where to buy the 'Industrial Style' in Cambodia?

Well.....We can't find anywhere yet. We will let you know otherwise we know some great places in Thailand and elsewhere.

In the mean-time this looks a promising chance to buy if you want something bespoke - Maybe they can, maybe they cannot:

Kingswood Furniture

 

 

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