• Follow Us:

Cambodia History

 
Prehistory of Cambodia
 
Carbon 14 dating of a cave at Laang Spean in northwest Cambodia reveals stone tools from 6000-7000 BCE,[1] and pottery from 4200 BCE.[2] Further archaeological evidence indicates that other parts of the region now called Cambodia were inhabited from around 2000-1000 BCE by a Neolithic culture. Skulls and human bones found at Samrong Sen date from 1500 BCE.[2] These people may have migrated from South Eastern China to the Indochinese Peninsula. Scholars trace the first cultivation of rice and the first bronze making in Southeast Asia to these people.[2] By the 1st century CE, the inhabitants had developed relatively stable, organized societies and spoke languages very much related to the Cambodian or Khmer of the present day.[2] The culture and technical skills of these people in the 1st century CE far surpassed the primitive stage. The most advanced groups lived along the coast and in the lower Mekong River valley and delta regions in houses constructed on stilts where they cultivated rice, fished and kept domesticated animals. Recent research has unlocked the discovery of artificial circular earthworks dating to Cambodia's Neolithic era.*

 
The Khmer people were among the first inhabitants of South East Asia. They were also among the first in South East Asia to adopt religious ideas and political institutions from India and to establish centralized kingdoms comprising large territories. The earliest known kingdom in the area, Funan, flourished from around the first to the 6th century. This was succeeded by Chenla, which controlled large parts of modern Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

 
Funan Kingdom
 
The Funanese Empire rose to eminence from its affluent and powerful home city of Oc Eo (in nowadays Vietnam), known in the Roman Empire as Kattigara, meaning the Renowned City. Contacts with the distant Roman Empire are evidenced by the fact that Roman coins have been found at archeological sites dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries.[3] However, most of the foreign trade of the Funan Empire was carried on much closer to home with India, especially the Bengal area of India. Trade with India commenced well before 500 BCE (before the widespread use of Sanskrit as a language in India).[4] With the Indian trade came the Indianization of the culture of Funan and the religion of Hinduism. Hinduism produced a syncretism phenomenon with other previous religions and beliefs already present in the Khmer culture. Funan and its succeeding societies which occupied this section of Southeast Asia would remain mainly Hindu in religion for about 900 years. Some cultural features and customs of Hinduism continue to exist within the current society.

 
The empire reached its greatest extent under the rule of Fan Shih-man in the early 3rd century, extending as far south as Malaysia and as far west as Burma. The Funanese established a strong system of mercantilism and commercial monopolies that would become a pattern for empires in the region. Exports from the Funan Empire were largely forest products and precious metals—including accessories such as gold elephants, ivory, rhinoceros horn, kingfisher feathers, wild spices like cardamom, lacquer hides and aromatic wood.[3] Fan Shih-man expanded the fleet and improved the Funanese bureaucracy, creating a quasi-feudal pattern that left local customs and identities largely intact, particularly in the empire's farther reaches.

 
  Chenla Kingdom
 
The Khmers, vassals of Funan, had reached the Mekong River from the northern Menam River via the Mun River Valley. Chenla, their first independent state developed out of Funanese influence.

 
Ancient Chinese records mention two kings, Shrutavarman and Shreshthavarman who ruled at the capital Shreshthapura located in modern day southern Laos. The immense influence on the identity of Cambodia to come was wrought by the Khmer Kingdom of Bhavapura, in the modern day Cambodian city of Kompong Thom. Its legacy was its most important sovereign, Ishanavarman who completely conquered the kingdom of Funan during 612-628. He chose his new capital at the Sambor Prei Kuk, naming it Ishanapura.

 
After the death of Jayavarman I in 681, turmoil came upon the kingdom and at the start of the 8th century, the kingdom broke up into many principalities. Pushkaraksha, the ruler of Shambhupura announced himself as king of the entire Kambuja. Chinese chronicles proclaim that in the 8th century, Chenla was split into land Chenla and water Chenla. During this time, Shambhuvarman son of Pushkaraksha controlled most of water Chenla until the 8th century which the Malayans and Javanese dominated over many Khmer principalities.

 
 Khmer Empire
 
The golden age of Khmer civilization, however, was the period from the 9th to the 13th centuries, when Khmer Empire, which gave Kampuchea, or Cambodia, its name, ruled large territories from its capital in the region of Angkor in western Cambodia.

 
Legend has it that in 802 CE, Jayavarman II, king of the Khmers, first came to the Kuhlen hills, the future site of Angkor Wat.[5] Later, under Jayavarman VII (1181–ca. 1218), Khmer reached its zenith of political power and cultural creativity. Jayavarman VII gained power and territory in a series of successful wars. Khmer conquests were almost unstoppable as they raided home cities of powerful seafaring Chams. However, territorial expansion stopped after a defeat by Dai Viet. The battle also witnessed Suryavarman II's death. Following Jayavarman VII's death, Khmer experienced a gradual decline. Important factors were the aggressiveness of neighboring peoples (especially the Thai, or Siamese), chronic interdynastic strife, and the gradual deterioration of the complex irrigation system that had ensured rice surpluses. The Angkorian monarchy survived until 1431, when the Thai captured Angkor Thom and the Cambodian king fled to the southern part of the country.

 
The falling of Khmer Empire
 
 
The 15th to the 19th centuries were a period of continued decline and territorial loss. Cambodia enjoyed a brief period of prosperity during the 16th century because its kings, who built their capitals in the region southeast of the Tonle Sap along the Mekong River, promoted trade with other parts of Asia. This was the period when Spanish and Portuguese adventurers and missionaries first visited the country. It is known that the Portuguese visited Cambodia as early as 1555. However, the Thai conquest of the new capital at Lovek in 1594 marked a downturn in the country's fortunes and Cambodia. Becoming a pawn in power struggles between its two increasingly powerful neighbors, Siam and Vietnam. Cambodia remained a protectorate of Siam. Vietnam's settlement of the Mekong Delta led to its annexation of that area at the end of the 17th century. Vietnam employed a strategy similar to those of North American pilgrims and pioneers: settle and claim. Such foreign encroachments continued through the first half of the 19th century. A successful invasion by Vietnam further limited Thai protectorship in Cambodia and established the kingdom under full Vietnamese suzerainty.

Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge Era) (1975–1979)
 
Immediately after its victory, the CPK ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns, sending the entire urban population into the countryside to work as farmers, as the CPK was trying to reshape society into a model that Pol Pot had conceived.

 
The new government sought to completely restructure Cambodian society. Remnants of the old society were abolished and religion, particularly Buddhism and Catholicism, was suppressed. Agriculture was collectivized, and the surviving part of the industrial base was abandoned or placed under state control. Cambodia had neither a currency nor a banking system.

 
Democratic Kampuchea's relations with Vietnam and Thailand worsened rapidly as a result of border clashes and ideological differences. While communist, the CPK was fiercely nationalistic, and most of its members who had lived in Vietnam were purged. Democratic Kampuchea established close ties with the People's Republic of China, and the Cambodian-Vietnamese conflict became part of the Sino-Soviet rivalry, with Moscow backing Vietnam. Border clashes worsened when the Democratic Kampuchea military attacked villages in Vietnam. The regime broke off relations with Hanoi in December 1977, protesting Vietnam's alleged attempt to create an Indochina Federation. In mid-1978, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia, advancing about 30 miles (48 km) before the arrival of the rainy season.

 
The reasons for Chinese support of the CPK was to prevent a pan-Indochina movement, and maintain Chinese military superiority in the region. The Soviet Union supported a strong Vietnam to maintain a second front against China in case of hostilities and to prevent further Chinese expansion. Since Stalin's death, relations between Mao-controlled China and the Soviet Union had been lukewarm at best. In February to March 1979, China and Vietnam would fight the brief Sino-Vietnamese War over the issue.

 
In December 1978, Vietnam announced formation of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS) under Heng Samrin, a former DK division commander. It was composed of Khmer Communists who had remained in Vietnam after 1975 and officials from the eastern sector—like Heng Samrin and Hun Sen—who had fled to Vietnam from Cambodia in 1978. In late December 1978, Vietnamese forces launched a full invasion of Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979 and driving the remnants of Democratic Kampuchea's army westward toward Thailand.

 
Within the CPK, the Paris-educated leadership—Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea, and Son Sen—were in control. A new constitution in January 1976 established Democratic Kampuchea as a Communist People's Republic, and a 250-member Assembly of the Representatives of the People of Kampuchea (PRA) was selected in March to choose the collective leadership of a State Presidium, the chairman of which became the head of state.

 
Prince Sihanouk resigned as head of state on April 4. On April 14, after its first session, the PRA announced that Khieu Samphan would chair the State Presidium for a 5-year term. It also picked a 15-member cabinet headed by Pol Pot as prime minister. Prince Sihanouk was put under virtual house arrest.

 
 

Social and cultural implications of the regime
 
Thousands starved or died of disease during the evacuation and its aftermath. Many of those forced to evacuate the cities were resettled in newly created villages, which lacked food, agricultural implements, and medical care. Many who lived in cities had lost the skills necessary for survival in an agrarian environment. Thousands starved before the first harvest. Hunger and malnutrition—bordering on starvation—were constant during those years. Most military and civilian leaders of the former regime who failed to disguise their pasts were executed. Some of the ethnicities in Cambodia, such as the Cham suffered specific and targeted and violent persecutions. To the point of some international source referring to it as the "Cham genocide". Entire families and towns were targeted and attacked with the goal of significantly diminishing their numbers and eventually eliminated them.[2] Life in 'Democratic Kampuchea' was strict and brutal. In many areas of the country people were rounded up and executed for speaking a foreign language, wearing glasses, scavenging for food, and even crying for dead loved ones. Former businessmen and bureaucrats were hunted down and killed along with their entire families; the Khmer Rouge feared that they held beliefs that could lead them to oppose their regime. A few Khmer Rouge loyalists were even killed for failing to find enough 'counter-revolutionaries' to execute.

 
Modern research has located 20,000 mass graves from the Khmer Rouge era all over Cambodia. Various studies have estimated the death toll at between 740,000 and 3,000,000, most commonly between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.[32]

 
The U.S. State Department-funded Yale Cambodian Genocide Project estimates approximately 1.7 million.[33] R. J. Rummel, an analyst of historical political killings, gives a figure of 2 million.[34]

 
A UN investigation reported 2–3 million dead, while UNICEF estimated 3 million had been killed.[35] Demographic analysis by Patrick Heuveline suggests that between 1.17 and 3.42 million Cambodians were killed,[36] while Marek Sliwinski estimates that 1.8 million is a conservative figure.[37] Researcher Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia suggests that the death toll was between 2 and 2.5 million, with a "most likely" figure of 2.2 million. After 5 years of researching grave sites, he concluded that "these mass graves contain the remains of 1,386,734 victims of execution".

People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1993)
 
 
 
On January 10, 1979, after the Vietnamese army and the KUFNS invaded Cambodia, the new People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) was established with Heng Samrin as head of state. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces retreated rapidly to the Thai border. The Khmer Rouge and the PRK began a costly struggle that played into the hands of the larger powers China, the United States and the Soviet Union. A civil war was imposed on impoverished Cambodia that displaced 600,000 Cambodians to refugee camps along the border between Thailand and Cambodia.[38] The new regime killed tens of thousands of people.[39]

 
Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989 under the State of Cambodia, culminating two years later in October 1991 in a comprehensive peace settlement. The United Nations was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire, and deal with refugees and disarmament known as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).[40]

 
Ben Kiernan claimed that the US offered support to the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnamese invasion.[41] Other sources have disputed these claims,[42][43][44][45] and described "extensive fighting" between the US-backed forces of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front and the Khmer Rouge.[46]

Modern Cambodia (1993-present)
 
On October 23, 1991, the Paris Conference reconvened to sign a comprehensive settlement giving the UN full authority to supervise a cease-fire, repatriate the displaced Khmer along the border with Thailand, disarm and demobilize the factional armies, and prepare the country for free and fair elections. Prince Sihanouk, President of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia (SNC), and other members of the SNC returned to Phnom Penh in November 1991, to begin the resettlement process in Cambodia. The UN Advance Mission for Cambodia (UNAMIC) was deployed at the same time to maintain liaison among the factions and begin demining operations to expedite the repatriation of approximately 370,000 Cambodians from Thailand.

 
On March 16, 1992, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) arrived in Cambodia to begin implementation of the UN Settlement Plan. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees began fullscale repatriation in March 1992. UNTAC grew into a 22,000-strong civilian and military peacekeeping force to conduct free and fair elections for a constituent assembly.

 
Over 4 million Cambodians (about 90% of eligible voters) participated in the May 1993 elections, although the Khmer Rouge or Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK), whose forces were never actually disarmed or demobilized, barred some people from participating. Prince Ranariddh's royalist FUNCINPEC Party was the top vote recipient with 45.5% of the vote, followed by Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party and the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, respectively. FUNCINPEC then entered into a coalition with the other parties that had participated in the election. The parties represented in the 120-member assembly proceeded to draft and approve a new constitution, which was promulgated September 24, 1993. It established a multiparty liberal democracy in the framework of a constitutional monarchy, with the former Prince Sihanouk elevated to King. Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen became First and Second Prime Ministers, respectively, in the Royal Cambodian Government (RGC). The constitution provides for a wide range of internationally recognized human rights.

 
On October 4, 2004, the Cambodian National Assembly ratified an agreement with the United Nations on the establishment of a tribunal to try senior leaders responsible for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Donor countries have pledged the $43 million international share of the three-year tribunal budget, while the Cambodian government’s share of the budget is $13.3 million. The tribunal started trials of senior Khmer Rouge leaders in 2008. Cambodia is also recovering from the land mines which were used heavily by the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese; it will take approximately a decade to remove most of the land mines from Cambodia.