Libmonster ID: U.S.-1352
Author(s) of the publication: A. A. SIMONIA

Candidate of Economic Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Myanmar Keywords:ethnic and religious conflict, Rohingya Muslims, Rakhine Buddhists

Myanmar's rapid progress on the path of reform and democratization, which we have seen over the past two years, is exciting, surprising, and sometimes disbelieving. But one thing is clear - all the players and participants in the process won. The military elite retained power, the accumulated wealth remained in the hands of the highest military officials and "oligarchs". Former Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Tan Shwe and his family members are protected by constitutional immunity. The threat of an international investigation of war crimes has disappeared. Former prisoner of conscience Aung San Suu Kyi is not only free, but has also become an active politician. She was elected to Parliament and heads the Commission on Legal Norms and Stability. Almost all political prisoners have been released, and they have been granted the right to engage in politics. Finally, the Law on Freedom of the Press was passed, which abolished the censorship that had existed for 48 years.

The list of winners can be continued. But there was a group of the population that did not win anything.

This is a national minority-Rohingya Muslims living in the south-west of Myanmar. According to the UN classification, "this is the most persecuted ethnic group in Asia, because no country wants to grant them citizenship"1. A few years ago, there were 800,000 of them in Myanmar. Given the high birth rate, it is estimated that now there are already about 1 million of them. Previously, they lived in enclaves along the border with Bangladesh, but gradually settled throughout the state (national region) Rakhine (the traditional name of Arakan, continued until 1989), and by 2012, the Rohingya already lived in 14 of the 17 regions of the state. In its capital, Sittwe (until 1989). Akyab) the ratio of the number of Muslims and Buddhists is approximately equal.


Who are the Rohingya Muslims of Burma/Myanmar? And why are they the most "persecuted and persecuted"? And why is the Myanmar Government once again accused of human rights violations, genocide and racial intolerance? A historical reference is required.

The Arakap state was invaded and annexed to Burma by King Bodopaya of the Kounbaun dynasty in 1785. Territorial seizures caused great foreign policy troubles for Burma in those years. The capture of Arakan, which was inhabited by people close to the Burmese in blood and language, but existed for several centuries as an independent state, brought Burma to the borders with Bengal, which was already subordinated to the English East India Company in 1757. Thus, the feudal expansionism of the Burmese kings and the capitalist expansionism of England would inevitably collide on a common land border. Which is exactly what happened. This led to the outbreak of the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826), in which Arakan and Tenasserim were torn from Burma.

Currently, Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, has two main ethnic communities - Rakhine Buddhists, or Arakanese (Burmese subethnos), and Rohingya Muslims (Bengali subethnos), who make up 28.5% of the state's population.

The official view of the Myanmar government boils down to the fact that Rohingya Muslims are natives of Bengal, who massively penetrated the territory of Buddhist Burma during the British rule and received economic support from the British colonialists who ruled Arakan for 123 years, from 1825 to 1948. After the demarcation of the border between India and Burma in 1948, most of these people found themselves in the territory of the newly independent Burma.

The Myanmar authorities consider them representatives of Bengalis permanently residing in the country. In 1937, Burma seceded from British India, where it was part of one of its provinces, but remained a colony of England. In 1941, another census was conducted (even before the invasion of Burma by the Japanese during World War II). The Rohingya and their descendants were listed as

* Myanmar-before 1989, Burma.

page 18

"Bengalis" who are not eligible for citizenship.

During the period of parliamentary democracy in the 1950s, in the midst of general chaos, the Rohingya were recognized by the Government of U Nu as one of the indigenous ethnic groups. But with the coming to power of the Military Revolutionary Council headed by General Ne Win in 1962, the Rohingya lost their recognized political and constitutional identity. Arakan Rohingya Muslims were declared "illegal immigrants" who settled in Burma during the British rule.

In 1974, an Emergency Immigration Act was issued to reduce immigration from India, China, and Bangladesh. According to this Act, all citizens of the country were required to carry passports or certificates of national registration. The Rohingya representatives were denied these passports; at best, they could have obtained a foreigner's immigration card.

In 1982, the Government of the Socialist Republic of Burma Union (SRBS) issued the Citizenship Act of the SRBS, which effectively removed the Rohingya from the status of an indigenous ethnic group. At the time of the general population census completed in 1983, the Rohingya people were no longer included in the lists of ethnic minorities, and thus, by exclusion, they were declared stateless.

The new military administration, which was in power in Burma/Myanmar from 1988 to 2011, also did not recognize the Rohingya and confirmed their status as dispossessed. A statement issued by the Myanmar Foreign Ministry on February 26, 1992, states that although there are currently 135 nationalities living in the country, the so-called "Rohingya" are not among them, and historically there has never been such a nationality in Myanmar.2


In 1978, within the framework of the provisions of the Emergency Immigration Act of 1974, the Government launched the Nagamine program, which initiated registration checks against foreigners entering the country illegally. In Arakan, this resulted in a" sweep " of the area from the Rohingya by army units and local Arakan Buddhists. Operation Nagamine has caused a massive exodus of Rohingya in Bangladesh. By May 1978, 200,000 people were placed in refugee camps, where they lived in the most difficult conditions; during the year, 10,000 people died of hunger. Most of the refugees were later repatriated to Burma.

The second mass flow of refugees to Bangladesh occurred already under the new military regime, after the pogroms in 1991, Almost a quarter of a million people were displaced by army units on the territory of Bangladesh in the border areas of Teknaf and Cox's Bazar. During this operation, hundreds of Rohingya were killed and their villages burned. In Bangladesh, too, no one was waiting for them, and they were placed in temporary refugee camps, and later, with the assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they were forcibly returned to Myanmar. Since 2006, Bangladesh has tightened border controls, after which the Rohingya began to embark on a dangerous sea journey by boat to the coast of Thailand, then move to Malaysia in search of work.

Incidents involving "people in boats" 3 in 2008 - 2009 drew the attention of the world press to the situation of the Rohingya and gave rise once again to accuse the Myanmar military leadership of human rights violations, genocide and racism. Indeed, not the least role in the rejection of this people seems to be played by the ethnic intolerance of a large part of Burmese and, especially, Rakhine people towards Rohingya Muslims and their traditional arrogant attitude towards South Asians, who differ from them in their darker skin color. In the Burmese language, there is even a special contemptuous word "kala", meaning"migrant from South India".

When accusations of human rights violations rained down on Myanmar in early 2009 due to the escalating problem of "people in boats", Ye Myint Aung, Myanmar's Consul General in Hong Kong, sent a written explanation to his partners-heads of consulates of other countries. This letter, using undiplomatic expressions, demonstrated the depth of official rejection of this parody. The Consul General explained to his foreign colleagues that " the Rohingya are neither Myanmar nor a Myanmar ethnic group." "You can see from the pictures in the newspapers that their skin color is dark brown, unlike the beautiful Burmese, who have light and delicate skin, and these... scary as hell " 4.


Arakans are in solidarity with the Burmese Buddhist-dominated central government only on the issue of citizenship and attitudes towards the Rohingya. They remember very well that the first invaders of the independent Arakan state were the Burmese in 1784, the next were the British colonizers in 1825, and then the Bengalis began to claim their lands. And since then, they have been fighting "against the invasion of Bengalis trying to seize their lands."

Many Arakanese believe that the name Rohingya originated in 1951 specifically for Bengali immigrants.

Since most Bengali immigrants were Muslim, Arakanese faced the threat of Burmanization on the one hand and Islamization on the other. They believe that they are at risk of Islamization due to the large increase in the Rohingya population due to the high birth rate. The Rohingya, in turn, believe "that there are no more children in Muslim families than in Buddhist ones. Arakan belongs to the Rohingya, and they have lived here since the creation of the world. This was Indian land 1000 years ago"5. Historian Habib Siddiqui, who defends the Rohingya, claims that the territory of Arakan has long been inhabited by Muslims, but Burmese King Bodopaya, being a "fanatical Buddhist", seized the territory in 1784, brutally cracked down on Muslims.,

page 19

burned their mosques and converted the population to Buddhism 6.

It should be noted that, in addition to the Rohingya, the so-called Burmese Muslims live in Myanmar. This religious group in Burma was formed during the colonial period, when Burma was part of India, from the marriages of Muslim Indians with Burmese women. Although these Muslim Indians who took Burmese women as their wives practically merged with the Burmese population, they brought their own religion - their families began to practice Islam. During the 1941 census, they were listed as "Burmese Muslims"for the first time in the country's history, 7 in contrast to the Rohingya, who were recorded as "Bengalis", i.e. non-indigenous people of Burma.

Burmese Muslims live in various parts of the country. According to various estimates, Myanmar citizens who practice Islam make up from 4 to 8% of the population. There is no exact data, because the last general population census was conducted in 1983, and the next one is scheduled for 2014. Despite periodic conflicts between Buddhists and Burmese Muslims, the latter are still citizens of the country.

Burmese Muslims do not sympathize with or support the Rohingya, considering them " wrong Muslims." They also fear that if the Burmese government fights Islamic extremism, it will affect them first. Burmese Muslims also took part in demonstrations in Yangon in the summer of 2012 under the slogans " Rohingya-there is no such nation in Myanmar!".

Since 1942, following the 1941 general Census, when the Rohingya were listed as "Bengalis ineligible for citizenship", there have been six major conflicts between Arakanese (Rakhine) and Bengalis (Rohingya). During the pogroms in 1942, about 100 thousand Rohingya were killed, and another 80 thousand left their homes. The reason for the long-standing tension between the two peoples, according to the Arakanese, lies in the fact that "the Rohingya are constantly expanding their habitat and gradually displacing the Arakanese from their ancestral lands" 8.

In the early 1950s, shortly after Burma's independence, the Muslims of Arakan attempted an armed uprising, demanding the creation of an autonomous entity within Burma. In response, mass repressions against Rohingya Muslims began, and they lost all their posts in local government, many of them - and their property.


A new surge in anti-Rohingya protests occurred in the early summer of 2012. The reason was the abuse of a 26-year-old Buddhist girl and her murder on May 28 by three Rohingya Muslims. This monstrous crime caused a flurry of indignation and hatred. On June 3, a mob of angry Arakans stopped a bus carrying what they said were rapists and brutally killed the passengers, beating 10 people to death. The incident, which had nothing to do with the religious involvement of the participants, led to Rakhine State becoming the scene of violent clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists.

Murders, arson attacks, and robberies continued for two weeks. Moreover, the Rohingya began to burn Arakan villages located near their enclaves in retaliation for their slain tribesmen. In a few hours, 8 villages were burned down.

In the first round of the conflict in June, it was the Burmese army that managed to stop the retaliatory massacre of the Rohingya by the Arakanese, although world agencies, out of habit, immediately accused the Burmese soldiers of allegedly burning villages and shooting at civilians. As a result of clashes between two communities in Rakhine State, according to official data of the Myanmar government, 90 people were killed on both sides during June, and 70 thousand people lost their homes and became internally displaced in special internment camps. International human rights groups believe that there were many more victims.

As often happens in world history, any conflict between representatives of different faiths immediately takes on a religious connotation. The world press began to write about the sectarian strife in Myanmar and Buddhist chauvinism, genocide and fascism, about the fact that the Buddhist majority persecutes and destroys the Muslim minority. The Burmese side - both the Government and the opposition-prefer the term "inter-communal conflict".

At the height of the riots in Rakhine, Burmese Muslim diasporas in Yangon, Mandalay, and the Karen and Mon states did not dare to celebrate one of the two main Muslim holidays - Eid al-Adha (Arabic), or Eid al-Adha, for the first time in their memory, out of fear of getting "under the hot hand". (in Turkic), which in 2012 fell on October 26, 9. Indeed, Kaman Muslims living in Rakhine, but not belonging to the Rohingya group and holding Myanmar citizenship, were also attacked during the clashes. Until October 2012, they got along quite peacefully with the Buddhists.

There is rare consensus on the situation of the Rohingya among different segments of the population and among the political opposition, even among those who have spent decades in prisons and camps under the military regime. No one in Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be citizens of their country. When asked during Aung San Suu Kyi's European tour at the height of the events in Rakhine, " Are the Rohingya citizens of Myanmar?", she replied that she did not know. The position of former dissidents and pro-democracy activists on the Rohingya issue caused a flurry of indignation among international human rights defenders. Aung San Suu Kyi was also sharply criticized. She was repeatedly called upon to use her international authority and take the side of the"persecuted Muslims".

In turn, the Nobel Prize

page 20

The laureate calls on both sides to end violence and follow the letter of the law. Aung San Suu Kyi and members of parliament from ethnic parties issued a joint statement on November 7, 2012, in which they called on the Government to clarify its attitude to the conflict in Rakhine, clarify the circumstances that deprived the Rohingya of citizenship under the Citizenship Act SRBS adopted in 1982, and strengthen the presence of the army to ensure peace and security. stability in the national state. The statement emphasizes that responsibility for the riots lies on both sides.

President Thein Sein's proposal, published on his official website in July as a response to UN human rights defenders, to send all Rohingya to a third country that agrees to accept them, found unanimous support among the population. People took to the streets of cities to support the initiative of the president, for the first time in a year and a half of his presidency and reforms in the country. In September, hundreds of Buddhist monks in Myanmar's largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, demonstrated their support for the president's proposal. However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees immediately rejected this initiative of the President of Myanmar. There was also no country that was ready to accept about a million Islamic refugees.


The Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch commented to Voice of America radio on the massive three-day demonstrations by Buddhist monks in Mandalay in September 2012: "It is worrying that the same Buddhist monks who spoke out just a few years ago in defense of democracy and human rights10 are now advocating the potential deportation of a particular ethnic group, and that they will not be able to that the government can listen to these voices. " 11

Repeated clashes between communities in Rakhine occurred on 21 October 2012. This time, even the reason for a new round of conflict was almost impossible to establish. Both sides blamed each other. The riots spread rapidly and reached the town of Chowk Pyu, where an international consortium is building facilities to transport oil and gas to China. Both sides attacked each other with improvised weapons and improvised explosive incendiary bombs. According to eyewitnesses, Chinese workers were forced to take shelter in a safe place 12. Thus, the Chinese pipelines were in a zone of double instability - in the north, near the border with China, skirmishes between army units and Kachin13, and in the south, an ethno-religious conflict has now flared up.

The tourist center of Rakhine, the city of Mrauk U - the former capital of the Arakan state-has turned into a war zone. Hundreds of refugees have flocked to the state capital, Sittwe, to hide in refugee camps where 75,000 people have already been held since the first outbreak of hostility in June. Many went by sea to the shores of other countries. Hundreds of "people in boats" were reported dead in the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

A curfew was imposed in two other regions, and thus it became effective in eight regions of the state. In Sittwe, more than 800 university students took to the streets to protest against the proximity of Rohingya homes to their campus, under the slogan: "We don't want to study next to Bengali terrorists"14. During the week of inter-ethnic clashes, according to minimum estimates, 82 people were killed, 4,600 houses were burned, and more than 22,000 people were forcibly displaced.15 In total, interethnic clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims from June to October 2012 killed about 180 people on both sides and displaced nearly 100,000 people.16

Shortly before these events, President Thein Sein rejected the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)* , which includes representatives of 57 Islamic countries, including three ASEAN countries-Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei-with permission to open representative offices in Yangon and Sittwe to provide humanitarian assistance. Despite the preliminary agreement, the President's refusal came after mass demonstrations by Buddhist monks and lay people in Yangon, Mandalay, and 500 women also took to the streets of Sittwe to protest. Expressing the general opinion of the country's population, the editor-in-chief of the private weekly Eleven stated that there is no need to open OIC representative offices in Myanmar, since "we are not members of the OIC, and we are not an Islamic state." "If the OIC wants to provide humanitarian aid, it can do so through non-governmental organizations or the UN. We will not allow the opening of OIC offices in Myanmar, as this will further increase inter-communal tensions, " said the chief of Magazine 17.

The Myanmar Government also rejected the ASEAN proposal for joint trilateral actions, including the UN, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Arakan, as was the case after tropical cyclone Nargis. According to the Association's Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan, Myanmar has stated that this is its internal problem. This stance by the Myanmar Government has raised concerns from the ASEAN Secretary-General that the ongoing bloodshed could lead to radicalization of Rohingya Muslims and destabilization in Southeast Asia.18

Meanwhile, the terms "radical Buddhism" and "Buddhist terrorism"have become increasingly common among Rohingya advocates.19

There are growing signs of concern and disquiet in the Islamic communities of Southeast Asia, which believe that the peacekeeping efforts of the Myanmar Government and the international community are insufficient.

* The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was called the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) until June 2011.

page 21

In Jakarta, protests were held outside the Myanmar Embassy demanding an end to human rights violations. The protesters intended to take over the ASEAN secretariat and called for a boycott of the XXVII Southeast Asian Games to be held in Myanmar in 2013. President of Indonesia S. Yudhoyono appointed former Vice-President Yu. Kalla is the Special Representative for the Rohingya issue. Malaysia has hosted international conferences on this topic 20. The situation of the Rohingya was raised by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa at an extraordinary meeting of the OIC in Mecca on August 14-15, 2012. He described the events in Rakhine as a "crime against humanity" and the Myanmar Government's attitude towards the Rohingya as inconsistent with the recent course of the movement towards democracy.21

Myanmar is expected to assume the ASEAN presidency in 2014. In this regard, special attention is focused on Myanmar - how it will manage to cope with the Rohingya problem. Within the association, Thailand and the Philippines, which also have problems with Islamic minorities, and Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, which sympathize with the country's Buddhist majority and generally always support Myanmar, are in favor of soft influence on the Myanmar government.

Meanwhile, Rohingya representatives from around the world-Myanmar, Great Britain, Canada, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway-have issued a joint statement to the UN, which sets out demands to send peacekeeping forces and international observers to the conflict zone, to deliver unhindered humanitarian aid to all those in need and create a UN commission of inquiry to investigate crimes.

But most importantly, they are demanding that the Myanmar Government repeal the 1982 Citizenship Act. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also appealed to Myanmar to grant citizenship to the Rohingya people.

The US Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based human rights organization, issued a statement on November 1, 2012, calling on " extremist elements on both sides (Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims) to immediately stop the violence and stop spreading false and falsified rumors to incite further hostility and discrimination." The organization appealed to the President of Myanmar, Thein Sein, to find the instigators of the clashes and bring them to justice, and to the Myanmar Parliament to review the Citizenship Act of 1982 and amend it in accordance with international standards to grant citizenship to non-citizens.22

The Rakhine State government has formed a commission to determine the identity of the instigators of the riots, who allegedly arrived from abroad. An 18-member panel, including representatives of the armed forces, police, immigration and regional authorities, Arakan politicians and Islamic spiritual leaders, went to investigate the worst-affected area of the state, where both Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims lived nearby.23

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maun Lwin said at the Asia-Europe summit in Laos in November 2012 that the Government will do everything possible to prevent a repeat of violent clashes between communities. Now all efforts are being made to provide shelter for the victims who have been left homeless on both sides of the 24.

Certainly, the Myanmar Government will be able to maintain the appearance of peace and tranquility in Rakhine with an iron fist for a while. But at any moment, any spark can ignite a new bonfire of mutual intolerance. And Surin Pitsuwan's statement about the possibility of radicalization of the rejected marginal people is not an exaggeration, but rather a warning.

The events in Rakhine show that reconciliation between the two ethnic communities of the state, which are so alien to each other, is unlikely to be achieved. The Rohingya problem is an explosive mix of racial, religious, and territorial dimensions.

Even if the Myanmar government grants the Rohingya citizenship, which is unlikely, it is unlikely to solve the problem. Most likely, inter-ethnic strife will continue, and another hotbed of ongoing civil war will be maintained in the country.

1 The Diplomat. Tokyo, 15.08.2012.

2 The Straits Times (Singapore), 25.02.2008.

3 For more information about" people in boats", see: Simonia A. A. Myanmar: who are the Rohingya? // Asia and Africa Today, 2009, N 11, pp. 27-31.

4 Myanmar envoy brands boatpeople 'ugly as ogres' // Agence France Presse, 11.02.2009; South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 10.03.2009.

5 The Economist (London), 02.11.2012.

Siddiqui Habib. 6 Genocide of the Rohingya of Myanmar // Kaladan Press Network. First news agency dedicated for rohingya media, 05.11.2012.

Thompson Virginia, Adloff Richard. 7 Minority problems in Southeast Asia. Stanford, California, 1955, p. 70.

8 Mizzima News (Delhi), 11.09.2012.

9 The Irrawaddy (Thailand), 24.10.2012.

10 On the speeches of Buddhist monks in defense of democracy and human rights, see: Simoniya A. A. Myanmar: Hot September 2007 / / Asia and Africa Today, 2008, No. 1, pp. 2-9; ona. Myanmar: Transition to a Market Economy (1988-2011), 2012, pp. 63 - 69,212.

11 The Voice of America, 05.09.2012.

12 The New York Times, 26.10.2012.

13 Clashes with Kachin have continued since June 2011. Like other ethnic groups that entered into ceasefire agreements with the military Government in the 1990s, they refuse to lose their independent status and transfer their armed units to the unified Myanmar Border Force.

14 Democratic Voice of Burma (Oslo), 24.10.2012.

15 The Economist, 02.11.2012.

16 Agence France Presse, 06.11.2012.

17 Associated Press, 15.10.2012.

18 The Straits Times.., 6.11.2012. 19 См.: Siddiqui Habib. Op. cit.

20 The Straits Times.., 05.09.2012.

Kassim Yang Razali. 21 Plight of the Rohingya: ASEAN credibility again at stake // S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) Commentaries, (Singapore), N 207/2012, 6.11.2012, p. 2.

22 Mizzima News.., 02.11.2012.

23 The Irrawaddy, 06.11.2012.

24 Mizzima News... 02.11.2012.


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