Subscribe Search

Search form

"...a society cannot know itself if it does not have an accurate memory of its own history."

"...a society cannot know itself if it does not have an accurate memory of its own history."

When the Khmer Rouge began evacuating Phnom Penh, I was home alone; my mother and another family members had left for a safer location the day before, telling me they would come back for me. But the road was blocked and on April 18th, the Khmer Rouge told me that I had to leave. I went outside, but I had no idea of where to go because our neighborhood was completely deserted. So I started walking.

As a city kid, I didn’t have many survival skills, but hunger can make you learn a lot of things. I taught myself how to swim, for example, so that I could dive down and cut the sweet sugarcane growing in the flooded rice fields. And I learned how to steal food, how to kill and eat snakes and rats, and how to find edible leaves in the jungle.

So I never thought of dying, even once, during Democratic Kampuchea. Instead, I hoped that I would have a good night’s sleep and enough to eat one day. This hope was always with me and encouraged me to fight for life.

The Khmer Rouge changed my life forever. The need to find answers to why I endured so much pain and lost so many members of my family during the regime brought me to my profession of researching Democratic Kampuchea. I wanted to know why my sister was murdered, why I was jailed and tortured when I tried to find vegetables for one of my sisters who was pregnant and starving, and why my mother could not help me when I was being tortured. And I wanted revenge, too.

Although I am still seeking answers to these and other questions, I no longer have a strong desire for revenge. Visiting the home where I grew up has been a comfort to me; it renews the hopes I had for education as a child, and it keeps the memories of my friends and loved ones alive. I grew flowers at my house when I was young: orchids, and thunderstorm, fingernail, and winter Tuesday plants. I grow the same flowers today at DC-Cam. They remind me of where I’ve been and where I’m going now. Searching for the Truth.
Comments excerpted from Youk Chhang’s speech prefacing a photo exhibition at Rutger’s University.


  • Kak Channthy, Cambodian Space Project frontwoman, killed in crash at 38 [Updated]

    Updated 5:05pm, Tuesday, March 20, 2018 Kak Channthy, frontwoman of popular The Cambodian Space Project, was killed Tuesday morning in a traffic accident in Phnom Penh. She was 38. Channthy, the internationally recognised singer-songwriter also known as “Srey Thy”, was reportedly travelling in a tuk-tuk on the city's

  • Australians protest Asean summit visit by PM Hun Sen

    Hundreds of protesters gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Friday to protest against Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, who claimed to have been gifted millions of dollars by the Australian government ahead of a special Asean summit this weekend. An estimated 300 protesters, the majority of

  • One Australian, one Cambodian killed in explosion at military base

    Updated: 5:20pm, Friday 16 March 2018 An Australian tourist and a Cambodian soldier were killed in an explosion on Thursday afternoon at an army base in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province. The Australian, whom the government initially identified as a technical demining expert in his 40s, and

  • Peeling back layers of prehistory in Battambang

    When the man passed away, he had not yet reached 50. He belonged to a tribe that had settled near the Sangker River in Battambang province, likely cultivating the fields and raising animals. On the side, they hunted for boars, and even turtles, one of which