Intergenerational conference seeks to heal the wounds of survivors by educating youths about the Kingdom’s decades of killing and warfare
“IT starts from sentiments,” said Long Khet, director of Youth for Peace. “Reconciliation begins with feelings for a new generation.”
For the past three years, Youth for Peace (YFP) has been working on the complex issue of reconciling Cambodia with its past. On Friday it collaborated with Pannasastra University’s Peace and Conflict Studies Institute, the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) to hold an intergenerational conference, “Remembering for the Future”.
FES unveiled the photo exhibit “Journey into Night,” first compiled in 2005 and never before shown to the Cambodian public. It included images from peaceful Cambodian life, from civil war in the 1970s, and photo documentation from the Khmer Rouge conquest and its aftermath.
Exhibit photographs showed history in a series of haunting images and darkly paralleled narratives: Khmer Rouge killings and killings of Khmer Rouge soldiers by government troops, Vietnamese corpses from Cambodian riots and battles prior to Khmer Rouge, and Vietnamese soldiers caring for Cambodian children after the regime’s defeat.
Adding to this exhibit, YFP brought the living perspectives of Cambodian youths struggling to comprehend, yet empowered with understanding to move on from their country’s tragic past.
“The younger generation has to build the future of their country on the heritage of these experiences, while the previous generation has to handle their past and make the younger understand what happened during the period,” said Khet, addressing survivors and students.
YFP uses storytelling, history teaching, and art in rural memory workshops, designed to develop healthy paths to the past for KR survivors in the provinces. Its studies have shown the idea of reconciliation as one too personal for most Cambodians to find peace in the current trials of Khmer Rouge leaders.
“The court works on a political level, but we know it is not enough,” Khet said. “It might not heal or satisfy victims, because there are different definitions of justice for different people.”
YFP Programme Manager Chhit Muny noted a conversation between regime survivor Van Nath, former Khmer Rouge child-soldier Arn Chorn Pond, and Pannasastra students. “What exactly does reconciliation mean to each of them?” he asked.
Van Nath said reconciliation could only occur when those who tortured him in Tuol Sleng Prison spoke or wrote the truth about what they did, without hiding behind orders. Arn Chorn Pond sought reconciliation with himself, and devoted his adult life to penance.
Students at the conference were left to wrestle with the problem, and to view their history in the images of “Journey into Night”.
Copies of exhibition photographs have been given to YFP, for which the resource is invaluable. “For memory workshops we have had artists’ visions, but no photographs like these,” said Khet.