The head of Cambodia’s leading center for the study of the Khmer Rouge era has urged Armenia to lead efforts to promote education about genocide globally.
Youk Chhang traveled to the South Caucuses nation to attend events last month marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide. The founder and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, known as DC-Cam, Youk Chhang, is also behind the Sleuk Rith Institute, a project currently underway to establish in Phnom Penh a permanent research center and memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Genocide education is indispensable to peace and prosperity—including human rights protection,” Youk Chhang was quoted as saying by the official Armenian news agency, ARMENPRESS, while taking part in the forum entitled “Against the Crime of Genocide” in the capital, Yerevan.
“Armenia should take the lead or team up with other countries who have been through genocide – seize the opportunity offered by ourselves who suffered genocide to establish the world’s first genocide education program for all,” he added.
The conference was aimed at promoting discussion about acts of mass murder. The Armenian Genocide took place between 1915 and 1923, when about 1.5 million people are believed to have died at the hands of the Ottoman government in what is now Turkey.
The event was controversial since Turkey—which was formed as an independent republic in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire—denies the genocide took place. Nearly 30 countries have officially recognized that a genocide occurred, and Armenia is lobbying for more countries to recognize what many historians characterize as a systematic attempt to exterminate a people.
Hollywood actor George Clooney attended the conference and expressed that he would like to visit Cambodia, Youk Chhang said.
The Armenian government also organized a Remembrance Day of Genocide on April 24, which was marked by protests in Yerevan.
Youk Chhang told VOA Khmer that Turkey’s policy of denying the genocide was a source of tension, adding that Armenian youths took the streets and torched the Turkish national flag during the demonstrations.
He suggested that education programs for young people in both Turkey and Armenia could help to calm the two countries’ antagonistic relations, calling on Armenia’s foreign minister to lead efforts to establish world genocide education.
“The youth of both countries need to have accurate memory of their own society,” Youk Chhang said in an email.
About 1.7 million people died in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 under the Pol Pot regime. The period is often referred to as a genocide, although there is debate among scholars over whether it constitutes the definition of the crime set out in a 1948 United Nations convention.
Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are facing trial at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh. The pair have already been convicted of crimes against humanity, but a second phase of their trial is currently being heard that includes charges of genocide, specifically against the Muslim Cham and ethnic Vietnamese minorities.
Youk Chhang noted that the Armenian Genocide early in the last century had been followed by numerous other genocidal acts around the world. He stressed that education about genocide and discussion of the subject was crucial, especially in post-conflict societies like Cambodia, if such atrocities are not to be repeated.