A his­tory of per­se­cu­tion: Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Nearly 400,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims have fled re­newed vi­o­lence in Myan­mar, cross­ing the bor­der in Bangladesh in waves fol­low­ing a mil­i­tary crack­down the UN says amounts to eth­nic cleans­ing.

It is the lat­est chap­ter in a long and tu­mul­tuous his­tory of the Ro­hingya, the world’s largest state­less pop­u­la­tion. Be­fore the most re­cent surge of vi­o­lence, there were over one mil­lion Rohingyas in Myan­mar’s restive Rakhine state.

But the ques­tions of who they are, how many live in Myan­mar and when they ar­rived is hotly dis­puted, highly emo­tive and be­hind much of the cur­rent un­rest. Many of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity trace their lin­eage in Myan­mar back gen­er­a­tions, but were ef­fec­tively stripped of their cit­i­zen­ship by the for­mer junta and are de­mo­nized among the Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion as il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Here is a brief his­tory of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lims. When did they first ar­rive in Myan­mar?

By some ac­counts, they are descen­dants of Arab, Turk­ish or Mon­gol traders and sol­diers who in the 15th Cen­tury mi­grated to Rakhine state, pre­vi­ously called the King­dom of Arakan.

Other his­to­ri­ans say they em­i­grated from Bangladesh in sev­eral waves, a widely held view among most Burmese. For cen­turies the small Mus­lim mi­nor­ity lived peace­fully along­side Bud­dhists in the in­de­pen­dent king­dom, some were even ad­vi­sors to Bud­dhist roy­als, ac­cord­ing to his­to­ri­ans. Up­heaval en­sued from the late 18th cen­tury. In 1784 the king­dom was con­quered by the Burmese and later by the Bri­tish fol­low­ing the first An­glo-Burmese war of 1824-1826.

Un­der Bri­tish rule, a large num­ber ar­rived to work as farm­ers and later as mil­i­tary re­cruits. “In the 1830s there was a mas­sive in­flux of Mus­lim peas­ants from neig­bor­ing Ben­gal, mostly to work in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor,” said So­phie Bois­seau du Rocher, South­east Asia ex­pert at the French In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. By 1912, more than 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Arakan state were Mus­lim, up from five per­cent in 1869, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish cen­sus data cited by his­to­rian Jac­ques Lei­der. When did ten­sions start?

Bri­tish rule

Ten­sions be­tween the Ro­hingya Mus­lims and the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity date back to the be­gin­ning of Bri­tish rule in 1824. As part of their di­vide-and-rule pol­icy, Bri­tish colonists favoured Mus­lims at the ex­pense of other groups. They re­cruited them as sol­diers dur­ing World War II, pit­ting them against Bud­dhists aligned with the Ja­panese as the war played out on Burmese soil.

“Both armies, Bri­tish and Ja­panese, ex­ploited the fric­tions and an­i­mos­ity in the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion to fur­ther their own mil­i­tary aims,” said Moshe Ye­gar, au­thor of a book about Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in South­east Asia. Their sta­tus was for­ti­fied in 1947 when a new Con­sti­tu­tion was drafted, en­shrin­ing them with full le­gal and vot­ing rights-which would be later stripped and ren­der them state­less. Rakhine has a poverty rate near­ing 80 per­cent, dou­ble the na­tional av­er­age, kin­dling re­sent­ments over eth­nic claims to the area.

What hap­pened un­der the junta?

A 1962 mil­i­tary coup ush­ered in a new era of re­pres­sion and bru­tal­ity. The coun­try’s eth­nic mi­nori­ties like the Ro­hingya did not fare well. Most were ef­fec­tively ren­dered state­less in 1982 when the junta is­sued a new law on cit­i­zen­ship, re­quir­ing mi­nori­ties to prove they lived in Myan­mar prior to the first An­glo-Burmese war in 1823 to ob­tain na­tion­al­ity.

Af­ter the junta was dis­solved in 2011, the coun­try saw a rise in Bud­dhist ex­trem­ism which fur­ther side­lined the Ro­hingya and marked the be­gin­ning of the lat­est era of ten­sions.

The 20th cen­tury saw a series of mil­i­tary crack­downs against the group: in 1978 and 1991-2, which prompted hun­dreds of thou­sands to flee to Bangladesh.

Some were sent back by Dhaka, and the United Na­tions ques­tioned the sup­pos­edly “vol­un­tary” na­ture of the repa­tri­a­tions. What’s be­hind the lat­est vi­o­lence?

They have been sub­jected to re­stric­tions on move­ment, em­ploy­ment and ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices since an­other out­break of vi­o­lence in 2012. Ten­sions mounted again in Oc­to­ber 2016, when a small and pre­vi­ously un­known mil­i­tant group-the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA) — staged a series of deadly at­tacks on Burmese mil­i­tary forces.

The army re­sponded with a mas­sive se­cu­rity crack­down, spark­ing a new wave of refugee ar­rivals into Bangladesh. On Au­gust 25, ARSA again launched an early morn­ing at­tack on army in­stal­la­tions in Rakhine, trig­ger­ing a bru­tal mil­i­tary cam­paign in re­sponse.

An es­ti­mated 391,000 Ro­hingya have fled to Bangladesh in the last three weeks, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, which has said the mil­i­tary crack­down amounts to eth­nic cleans­ing of Ro­hingya Mus­lims.—AFP

JAKARTA: Mus­lim pro­test­ers gather dur­ing a rally against the per­se­cu­tion of Ro­hingya Mus­lims, in Jakarta yes­ter­day. Thou­sand Mus­lims staged the rally con­demn­ing vi­o­lence in Myan­mar against its Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity. —AP

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