Sunday, January 19, 2014

After Angkor Era: Cambodia has Faced her Demise

Cambodia after Angkor Era
By Khmer Wathanakam

Khmer King Ang Duong
Through her over 2,000 year-history, Cambodia has experienced with both flourished and dark ages.  Before her downfall, Cambodia had stood as a great empire for over 600 years according to most scholars and records--from 802 to 1431.  Angkor Empire reached its zenith during King Jayavaraman VII's reign (1181-1218) when it had stretched over most part of inland Southeast Asia compared with a newer Mongol Empire.  But after Angkor Era, Cambodia has steadily declined and become a prey of her two growing powerful neighbors--Vietnam and Thailand.

The collapse of Angkor Empire was visibly caused by Khmer internal conflicts and fast growing power of her two neighbors especially Thailand in that time when Vietnam was busy to conquer Champa Kingdom.  Thailand did not exist prior to Angkor Empire, but several small kingdoms had gradually merged into a great powerful nation under a leadership of Ayutthya Kingdom along Chaos Phraya Valley.  Thailand had ruled most part of Laos and western part of Cambodia until French colonial period.  Vietnam though has much older history than Thailand, a small kingdom of Dai Viet or Anam was continuously under Chinese suzerainty over 1,000 years.  But after it had got rid of Chinese yoke in 10th century, Vietnamese Emperor Le Dai Hanh relentlessly expanded southward, conquering Champa Kingdom through military power and smooth political marriage.  By 14th century, Vietnam completely took over Champa when a Vietnamese Princess Huyen Tran was married to Cham King to cement its conquest.
After a successful conquest over Champa, the Vietnamese dynasty eyed on Kampuchea Krom.  Unlike Champa, the Nguyen Lord did not attack Kampuchea Krom by forces but through political marriage with Khmer King Chey Chettha II who had escaped Phnom Penh from Thai invasion, requesting Vietnamese Emperor to restore his throne.  Then King Chey Chetta II was married to a Vietnamese Princess Nguyen Thi Ngoc Van in 1618.  In return, Chey Chettha granted settlement rights and land lease to Vietnamese settlers in Prey Nokor and Mekong Delta area.  By 1690, Khmer people in the area found themselves as a minority group when the Vietnamese settlers outnumbered them in their homeland.  Then the Vietnamese declared Kampuchea Krom as their land, and they no longer obeyed Khmer laws and paid taxes to Khmer King.

The Vietnamese had used similar strategy practicing by European pilgrims in North America; wherever they had settled, they claimed the lands. Such a strategy was successfully practiced by the Vietnamese settlers on Khmer land since they had outnumbered the local Khmer people in comparison with the European settlers to local American Indians.  Yet, a successful conquer of Kampuchea Krom did not satisfy Vietnam's ambition; a proper Cambodia again fell into Hanoi's final target to create a future greater Vietnam.  Using Kampuchea Krom as its spring board, Vietnam went to war directly with Thailand at least three times--1811-12, 1831-34, and 1841-44 to protect its puppet rulers-- King Ang Chan II and his successor Queen Mei. Thai and Vietnamese expeditionary forces occasionally engaged in battles around Oudong and Phnom Penh.  All Khmer Kings were crowned according to the wishes of the two rival neighbors; without support from either side, Khmer kings had no chance to stay on their throne.

King Ang Duong, (reigned 1841-1860)-- a poet, classical writer, and a wise king after Angkor Era-- saw his kingdom was being torn apart by the two enemies.  Though he was groomed and crowned by Thai, he chose not to fallow Thai patronage.  He quietly seek outside powers to help his beloved nation from being a prey of Thai and Vietnamese.  His action had paved the way for France to establish a French protectorate in 1863, witnessing by his successor King Norodom.  Albeit French protectorate made Cambodia officially lost her independence, Cambodian people were able to preserve their identity,culture, traditions, ways of life, and more important than these, an existing of Khmer nation until today; otherwise Vietnam and Thailand would share their common border around Oudong today.

 Over 400 years later, Khmer history seems repeat itself.  Now the continuous rampant influx of Vietnamese immigrants into Cambodia has echoed King Chey Chettha II Era when he granted land lease to Vietnamese settlers in Kampuchea Krom in exchange with his political marriage with a Vietnamese princess, and later it has become Vietnamese land.  Now Hun Sen has been practicing a policy that even much worse than King Chey Chettha II's political marriage since he has opened border to Vietnamese immigrants to settle in Cambodia without condition, and he even has helped to accommodate and protect them while Khmer people are being persecuted and forcibly chased out of their homes and land without mercy.  This analogy of Chey Chettha II and Hun Sen has provided Khmer people a clear picture of the Vietnamese's modus operandi in conquering Khmer nation in the past and the present day.  If Hun Sen has played King Chey Chettha's role, Sam Rainsey has had to play King Ang Duong or Jayavaraman VII's role in order to save Khmer nation from her demise on time.

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