Displays of slogans at Cambodian high schools are not uncommon, most of which talk about the need for education and the pursuit of wisdom.
A genocide awareness organization, the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), has now begun to take this method a step further, by seeking to ignite a discussion on Cambodia’s history.
DC-Cam has completed 19 memorials since it began its Genocide Education Memorial Project in 2010 and is now hoping to extend the construction of memorials to areas close to schools, particularly targeting former Khmer Rouge strongholds.
Pheng Pong Rasy, the project director, hopes that the memorials will spark a debate over the issue.
“It serves as the platform where we can retrace history during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.”
Each memorial costs about $1,000, which also covers an inauguration ceremony. During the ceremonies Khmer Rouge survivors are invited to discuss their experiences of the regime to help the younger generations understand their history better and how the trauma of those dark days remains ever present.
“When these facts are internalized into them, they empower other people to avoid such a tragic event in the future,” Rasy said.
Sea Sokha, deputy director of Prey Lvea high school in Takao province, said the event held at the school had been “very emotional” and had left people “with tears dripping off their noses.”
“The memorials trigger curiosity in the Khmer Rouge, which is essential to understand the past and present.”
Each memorial carries slogans promoting discussion of the Khmer Rouge regime and of Democratic Kampuchea, as the state was called under its 1975-1979 reign.
Seurng Chanpheak, a grade 12 student at Prey Lvea high school, said the event had promoted the idea of forgiveness and learning the lessons of the past.
Pok Bora, a history teacher at the same school, said the memorials “portray the importance of learning about the Khmer Rouge regime by grabbing students’ attention”.
“I would support the building of more of them because it plays a significant role as a reminder for the next generation.”
Sokha believes that without the memorials it would be easy to whitewash history.
“I've learned that when students gain a sense of realizing their history, they tend to be intrigued and avoid such experiences in the future.”
Dourng Sophinndavin, a student at the Royal University of Law and Economics, agreed.
“The youth will become the messenger to the world that war cannot give any benefits and youth will sit down and talk to solve conflict rather than using taking up arms.”