A new graphic novel is bringing Cambodians face to face with crimes against Cham and Vietnamese minorities under the Khmer Rouge regime.
A graphic novel launching today in the Khmer-language uses twin narratives to convey the experiences of the Cham and Vietnamese ethnic minorities under the Khmer Rouge regime, a topic now under the microscope at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Dubbed Your Story, My Story, the 90-page book from peace-building NGO Kdei Karuna uses comic-strip storytelling and interviews with Cham and Vietnamese civil parties to bring to life the tales of a Khmer-Vietnamese mixed marriage and another relating the persecution of the Cham minority.
The Swiss embassy in Thailand funded novel’s stories begin during the relative freedom of the Sangkum period, continue through the upheaval of the Lon Nol era and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, and end in the present day, with civil parties testifying at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
“We interviewed [ethnic] Khmer, Cham, and Vietnamese Cambodians to contribute their painful experiences, such as the torturing of their sisters and brothers or in-laws who married different ethnicities. It is a part of their family story,” says Kdei Karuna project office Ly Rattanak.
The content, says Rattanak, relates to the substance of the genocide hearings heard over the past two years for Case 002/02 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
The project itself is, in fact, part of the court’s reparations for civil parties.
“We decided to produce this graphic novel as a different strategy to inform the public,” Rattanak says, adding that the work will be part of a mobile exhibition that will travel to various communities in different provinces.
“This novel is a new strategy to integrate information to young people . . . because Cambodian people don’t like to read too much text,” he adds.
Putting it together took six months of interviews and writing. The resulting graphic novel, illustrated by artist Sao Sreymao, has a specific focus on ethnic and racial discrimination.
“In spite of the hardship of discussing it in the community, this gives a chance to survivors to discuss in detail their painful memories and convey the history to the public, especially the youth, because people rarely talk about the Khmer Rouge history and in particular what happened to [specific] ethnic groups,” he says.
Khmer Rouge senior leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan currently stand accused of perpetrating genocide against the predominantly Cham Muslim ethnic minority for the suppression of culture, language and religious practices as well as the bloody quelling of Cham uprisings in Kampong Cham province in 1975. Genocide charges against the Vietnamese relate to evidence of forced expulsion, persecution and the killings of ethnic Vietnamese and Khmer-Vietnamese mixed couples and children that escalated in 1978.
Another aim, Rattanak says, is to raise awareness about racism and its dark history in Cambodia, and how racism still exists within the Kingdom to this day.
ECCC Civil Party Mat Keu, a 65-year-old Cham survivor contributed his experience to the creation of the graphic novel.
“I was 22 years old at that time, when me and my villagers fought with Khmer Rouge soldiers who carried guns to kill our people, and forced us to betray our religion,” he says, adding that many in his family were killed.
“Today, I am pleased to share my experience during the war, because it is really important to let [the youth] know the real history,” he says.
Ethnic Vietnamese community leader Vin Yang Min, who himself escaped with his family in 1973 and returned to Cambodia in 1980, says that many of his relatives were not so lucky and that many of his villagers were subjected to persecution and torture.
“Young people should know about those experiences during war, the violence and discrimination, it helps to avoid racial discrimination [now],” he says.
For now, Kdei Karuna plans on publishing 2,000 copies in Khmer and in January will print some 180 copies in English to distribute to partner organisations, donors and target communities. Eventually, they hope to sell the books to the public.