A history of persecution: The Rohingya Muslims
By some accounts, they are descendants of Arab, Turkish or Mongol traders and soldiers
Nearly 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled renewed violence in Myanmar, crossing the border in Bangladesh in waves. 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 more than 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.
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. Other historians say they emigrated from Bangladesh in several waves, a widely held view among most Myanmarese. For centuries they lived peacefully alongside Buddhists in the independent kingdom.
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 neighbouring 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 per cent of the population of Arakan state were Muslim, up from 5 per cent in 1869, according to British census data cited by historian Jacques Leider.
When did tensions start?
Tensions between the Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhists 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 the Second World War, pitting them against Buddhists aligned with the Japanese as the war played out on Burmese soil. 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.