New Book Suggests Chams Were Victims of KR Genocide

A Cambodian researcher has published new evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities inflicted on the Cham Muslim minority that suggests thousands more people were killed than previously thought.

The work of Ysa Osman, collected in his book “Oukoubah,” also suggests that the Khmer Rouge systematically punished the Cham for their religious and cultural beliefs, lending weight to arguments that the Cham were victims of genocide.

Ysa Osman, an employee of the Documentation Center of Cam­bodia, said that of the 700,000 Chams who lived in Cam­bodia at the start of the reign of Democratic Kampuchea, only 138,607 survived until the end of the re­gime  four years later.

He culled those numbers from interviews and recollections of documents held by the Grand Mufti, or leader of the Cham people, before 1975.

The numbers are significantly higher than those of historian Ben Kiernan, who relied on a 1936 census from the French colonial government to estimate the Cham population in Cam­bodia before the Khmer Rouge at 250,000, with 173,000 surviving to the end of the regime.

The Cham people were made landless in 1491 when their na­tion, Champa, formerly part of central Vietnam and the Mekong Delta region, fell to the Vietnam­ese.

An ethnic minority within Cambodia, it was widely known that they suffered under the Khmer Rouge.

But it is a point of contention among researchers whether the Cham were singled out for persecution.

Not all historians believe that the Cham were victims of genocide, which is defined under the International Genocide Conven­tion of 1948 as the intentional de­struction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Researcher Ysa Osman, 31, in­terviewed 207 people over the course of one year to uncover how the Khmer Rouge dismantled Cham life, including the Khmer Rouge habit of making village leaders out of the lowest ranking Cham villager in order to crush a Cham village’s sense of order.

“The Khmer Rouge’s goal was to have Cham kill Cham, Cham spy on Cham, and Cham report on fellow Cham, and to have the Cham erase their customs and traditions, shut the doors of the mosques and forbid prayer, fasting, alms giving and various religious ceremonies,” Osman writes in his book.

Muslims were forced to eat pork, women were forced to cut their hair and the wearing of the traditional scarf was not allowed, Osman writes.

Some 108 mosques were de­stroyed during the regime, with just five still standing after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Osman writes.

“Oukoubah,” the name taken from the Arabic word for justice, also briefly touches on the Cham uprisings in Koh Phal and Svay Khleang villages in late 1975, where Cham villagers fought with sticks and stones.

A separate Documentation Center book on the uprisings is forthcoming. “Oukoubah” chronicles the arrests of 13 Chams who were taken to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison and forced to confess to crimes.

Osman said 42 Chams and 40 foreign Muslims were killed at Tuol Sleng.

The book includes their confessions, including that of Haji Saleh Yahya, a senator in the government of Lon Nol.

Ysa Osman said his family still lives in the Muslim village in Kompong Cham province where Khmer Rouge soldiers forced Cham people to eat pork, cut their hair and abandon their regular religious worship.

The village today still has empty farms where entire families were wiped out, he said. His family did not escape tragedy: He lost grandparents and a brother and sister to illness.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center, writes in the forward to the book that Osman’s work “contributes to the growing body of research and documentation that makes an ever stronger and more compelling case to both the Cambo­dian government and the United Nations: cooperate to ensure that the Khmer Rouge leadership is brought to justice.”

Chhang wrote in the book’s forward that the documents and stories contained in “Oukoubah” should be treated by tribunal lawyers as evidence.

The book is the second in a series published by the Docu­mentation Center. The first book, “Victims and Perpe­trators?,” was published last year. The Docu­mentation Center plans to publish 2,000 copies of Oukoubah.



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