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The executive director of the Bophana Centre, Chea Sopheap, shows the Khmer Rouge History app on an iPad.
The executive director of the Bophana Centre, Chea Sopheap, shows the Khmer Rouge History app on an iPad. Erin Handley

Khmer Rouge History app to assist students

Cambodian students can set aside dusty tomes of Khmer Rouge history after the launch of a new app, which allows them to immerse themselves in photos, videos and propaganda songs that tell the story of a communist movement that irrevocably altered the nation.

The Khmer Rouge History app, available for download on iOS and Android as of yesterday, is a history book with an interactive twist. The project, sponsored by the EU and REI Foundation, was created by the Bophana Centre and is a proposed reparation project for civil parties – victims of the regime – represented in Case 002/02 against former leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Where photographs of key historical moments – the Cham Muslim rebellion, for example – do not exist, painters and sculptors have been employed to cast the testimony of survivors in an artistic light.

The app has been in progress for more than a year and can be updated when new information – such as a legal judgment for Chea and Samphan – comes to light. It is made up of eight chapters – with more than 1,300 pictures and 65 videos – that span the origins of the guerrilla group to the prosecution of the regime’s most senior leaders.

A screnshot of the Khmer Rouge history learning app, that was launched yesterday in Phnom Penh
A screnshot of the Khmer Rouge history learning app, that was launched yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

Filmmaker and Bophana Centre founder Rithy Panh said he had a dream the app would resonate with the younger generation.

“It’s not black and white . . . We are not politicians, we are historians, so we just present the facts,” he said.

Bophana Executive Director Chea Sopheap said he hoped the younger generation would be able to tap into the lived history of their parents and grandparents in a new way, helping them to begin to grasp what “hunger” meant to their elders.

“It is a source of pride for Cambodians to be able to collect these stories. We all know the Khmer Rouge history was written by non-Cambodians,” he said.

One video story – of a cook for the Khmer Rouge whose whole family was killed – resonated with him.

“I was really touched by the question she asked – who would look after her? Because we always take care of our parents when they are old,” he said.

The creators hope the app will reach up to 40,000 students, as it will be rolled out in 80 schools and 20 universities across five provinces, but they are aiming for an ambitious 200,000 worldwide downloads within a year.

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