As a young boy, Dr. Sotheara Chhim heard of a warning from an elder that he remembers now had the resonance of prophecy: “Darkness will settle in the people of Cambodia. There will be houses but no people in it, roads but no travelers, and lands will be ruled by barbarians with no religion.”
That would happen shortly, before he reached his teens, as Cambodia endured four years of totalitarian hell following the takeover in 1975 of the extremist radical movement Khmer Rouge.
The brutal regime forcibly relocated residents of the capital Phnom Penh out of the city to the countryside, for the purported objective of establishing a classless society. Instead, this led to indiscriminate mass killings, alongside the deaths of millions from starvation, torture, and disease, while the Khmer leadership became a social class on its own, enjoying the privileges of unlimited power.