The Khmer Rouge regime was remembered Tuesday with mournful incantations and brutal re-enactments of the piercing gunfire, starvation, forced labor and executions that have come to typify the years between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia.
The “Day of Anger,” which has been staged annually since 1984, was marked at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district, and attended by about 600 people.
“More than three million innocent people sadly lost their lives without being guilty; society fell into the abyss of darkness,” one of the performers said in a speech to introduce the re-enactments.
As she spoke, some attendees strolled slowly past the graves from which thousands of bodies were exhumed after the fall of the regime. The blast of foreboding music, however, signaled that the performance was about to begin.
Actors clad in black tunics and red kramas brought the darkest moments of the regime to life, ripping babies away from their mothers, and drowning, torturing, maiming and murdering starving laborers.
Many of those watching held up smartphone cameras or stood transfixed. Clutches of small children huddled together in wide-eyed stupor.
“It reminds me of the painful suffering,” said Sim Khon, 74, as he smoked a cigarette, crouched at the lip of one of the pits where victims had been buried.
According to Ly Sok-Kheang, the project leader of the Witnessing Justice program at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the day is “intended to bridge divides between former adversaries…to give space for people to unleash their grief and anger in a peaceful way, and to remind the people of the Khmer Rouge atrocity on the Cambodians.”
But the event, organized by City Hall, still provided the ruling CPP with an opportunity to extol the virtues of the party and its leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who were among the Vietnamese-backed forces that ousted the Khmer Rouge. Their portraits and a party flag were raised beside the memorial stupa in which several thousand bones are interred.