After pictures of a structure being built in Thailand sparked heated debate on social media over its resemblance to the Angkor Wat temple, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts issued a press statement saying it was not a replica.
The ministry said it had worked with the Cambodian embassy and relevant parties in Thailand to collect information and will continue to monitor the case.
The structure, it explained, was one of several concrete temples built for Buddhist religious purposes at a pagoda in the Ban Sing sub-district of Nang Rong district in Buri Ram province. It is made of concrete and metal rebar inside and covered with sandstone outside.
“With clarification and presentation of documents and maps of the construction, the head monk at the pagoda said the construction did not follow the architectural plan or style of Angkor Wat, or any other temple in Cambodia. The structure was designed in a style similar to the architecture of other temples in the region,” the ministry said.
It said the pagoda welcomed any requests to send experts in architecture from Cambodia to inspect the construction to clear any suspicions.
“The culture ministry expresses profound thanks to our compatriots who always take responsibility for the protection and promotion of the national prestige and identity and its invaluable arts. The ministry will continue to follow this issue with care,” the ministry said.
History professor Sambor Mannara said on July 7 that Cambodians have to study history clearly before claiming that any structure is copied from that of Angkor Wat temple.
“What is important is that we have to prove which part of this structure is copied from Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Have we studied this enough to know – especially the younger generations who are just learning – or just speaking out of fear?” he asked.
He said to allay fears that Thailand might have copied Khmer architectural structures, Cambodians need to learn the history of the region and of Khmer architectural structures in order to protect them.
“I don’t believe that they are trying the build the temple to be like Angkor Wat. It will never be exactly alike. It can be similar or in the same style, but Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century and now it is the 21st century.
“They can use sandstone, but the insides are cement and metal rebar. Our Khmer heritage is so invaluable that we have to join hands in protecting it, but not out of fear,” he said.
He said Buri Ram was formerly part of the Khmer Empire and it was a place where a lot of temples were constructed so it makes sense that Thai people would construct ones that look like the ancient temples in their area because it is also a part of their heritage as well.
Nevertheless, he said Cambodia must follow international law and enforce its rights in case a structure being built is actually identical to Angkor Wat.
“When it comes to this point, it’s UNESCO that is partly responsible because Angkor Wat was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 and that would seem to imply some copyright or protections,” he said.