I have wanted to visit Angkor Wat for so many years and, perhaps more so, have wanted to pay my respects, learn more about and offer healing for the Genocide, committted country wide in the 1970s, under the evil eye of Pol Pot.
One detention center, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived. The Khmer Rouge, in their attempt to socially engineer a classless communist society, took particular aim at intellectuals, city residents, ethnic Vietnamese, civil servants and religious leaders.
Needless to stay, Prison 21 is a harrowing place to visit. The images and detailed horroific accounts of unspeakable torture are haunting. Sending healing, love and light to those past, present and future seemed somewhat futile, but I know from my experiences at Srebrenica, Bosnia and Auschwitz, Poland, they have some effect. I tried keenly to find a therapy based trauma focused NGO working with those who survived and their families, to no avail. If anyone knows of such and organisation, please let me know.
The following day I visited Choeung Ek , known more widely as The Killing fields. Another sombre and heart breaking day. Those sent to Choeung Ek made the 17-kilometre journey crammed into the back of trucks. Once there, many were blindfolded and, not wanting to waste bullets, soldiers smashed spades into their heads before pushing them in pits containing the dead bodies of thousands. It is thought about 17,000 men, women and children were executed at the site.
In 1980, the remains of almost 9,000 people were exhumed from the mass graves that litter the former orchard. Many of these skulls now sit in a memorial Stupa that was created in 1988 and forms the site’s centrepiece, serving as a stark reminder about the bitter past and to ensure the lives lost are never forgotten.
It’s hard to imagine the former longan orchard is a place that harbours such horror. Birdsong rises from the trees, the gentle breeze wafts through the manicured fields, flowers are in bloom, shimmering paddies surround the site and life goes on.