Academic’s Comments on Angkor King Anger Many

Cambodia’s most famous historical figure of the Angkor period caused an outpouring of emotions this week following a radio interview in which he was depicted as less than the perfect national hero he is now considered.

The suggestion that Jayavarman VII—the Khmer king who governed Angkor when the Khmer empire was at the zenith of its power—may have been half Cham prompted angry headlines in Khmer-language newspapers.

In a Radio Free Asia interview broadcast and posted on the In­ternet on Jan 22, the writer and Khmer-language academic Keng Vannsak also said that Jayavarman VII had lent the land where Suk­othai would later develop as the capital of Siam, Thailand’s former name.

Keng Vannsak—whose cultural and political opinions landed him in jail in the 1950s—also said that Jayavarman VII had forced workers to carry heavy stones to build monuments. The 12th-Century King built some of Angkor’s most famous structures including the fortified city of Angkor Thom and the Bayon temple.

Keng Vannsak also described Jayavarman’s close links with the neighboring Kingdom of Champa. In a telephone interview Thursday from France, Keng Vannsak said that, based on documents he has, the father of Jayavarman VII may have been Cham and his mother Khmer.

On Thursday, 18 Cambodian journalists issued an open letter in which they accused Keng Vann­sak of distorting history.

“His accusations against Jayavar­man VII, who is considered by Khmer citizens to be a great King, seriously affects Khmer citizens,” they wrote in the letter. “This is an insult to the Khmer royal family.”

Ros Chantrabot, a historian and deputy president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, questioned Keng Vannsak’s historical sources.

“It hurts today’s Cambodian people who believe in King Jayavar­man VII, Khmer soul and culture—it could cause turmoil,” he said.

Historian Michael Vickery said that he did not know what documents Keng Vannsak had based his opinion on.

However, he said, “Historians now accept that Jayavarman VII spent several years in Champa in the 1160s-1170s…and he had Cham princes and troops who assisted him in his campaign to reconquer Cambodia,” after the reign of a Khmer king who had been hostile to him.

 

 

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