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An Historian Looks at Rohingya

An Historian Looks at Rohingya

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Published by: ထြန္းလင္းေမာင္ on Jul 06, 2012
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An Historian Looks at Rohingya
Dr. Aye Kyaw has written books on education and culture in Burma. He wasborn in Lwe Chaung village in Taungok Township in Arakan State. He has a BAin history and religion, an MA in Asian history and a BA in law from RangoonUniversity. He earned a Ph.D in Southeast Asia History at Monash University inAustralia.Dr. Aye Kyaw taught at universities in Burma, Thailand and the US. Nowretired, he lives in New York city.While visiting Bangkok, he was interviewed by Ba Saw Tin on his views onArakan history, politics in Burma and the debate over Rohingya history andtheir troubled relationship with the Burmese military government.Question:
 Describe Arakan politics before Burma's independence?
Arakan leaders always joined in Burma's struggle for independence. Theyparticipated at the forefront in the struggle against British colonial rule and theJapanese invasion. If someone asks why they participated, it was because the Arakanwanted to rule themselves. The prominent Arakan leaders during British rule wereMonk U Seinda, monk U Pyinnya Thiha, U Nyo Tun, U Aung Zan Wai, U KyawMin, U Ba Saw and others. These leaders were prominent figures in the Arakanresistance movement and Arakan politics. Monk U Ottama was one of the first leadersin Burmese politics.If you look at the situation of the Arakan under British rule, there were two groups.One group worked with the British, and one group joined in the independencestruggle led by Gen. Aung San.U Nyo Tun was a famous student leader in the 1936 student strike, and he was quitewell-known in both the Arakan and Burmese community. While Burmeseacknowledge March 27 as marking the beginning of the resistance movement againstJapan, the Arakan had already started their resistance against Japan earlier, aroundFeb. 12 or 13.
What happened to the Arakan after the independence struggle?
 The main reason they fought was to get their own state and self rule.Unfortunately, when Burma won independence, nothing came of it. They asked PrimeMinister U Nu to grant them a state, but U Nu evaded the issue.
How did politics development during the following years?
 During U Nu's Anti Fascist Peoples' Freedom League (AFPFL) rule, there weretwo powerful political parties in Arakan State: The AFPFL and the Arakan UnityParty (AUP). U Kyaw Min led the AUP. U Aung Zan Wai and Taung Koke U KyawTin led the AFPFL in the Arakan region.
Then the AFPFL split into two factions: the "stable" AFPFL and the “clean” AFPFL.The clean AFPFL faction leader, prime minister U Nu, set up Mayu District in ArakanState. He registered Bengali as citizens through national registration and allowed themto vote. During the Colonial era, the Bengali started coming into Arakan to work.They mostly worked in the agricultural sector, and then returned when the work wasdone. One of the prominent leaders among Bengali was Sultan Mahmud. The AFPFLwas weak in a sense. When U Nu allowed Bengalis to enter Mayu District that wasthe beginning of today’s Rohingya problem.
Do you know when the use of the term "Rohingya" began?
 I think it appeared during the 1960s. Because even the Bengali leader, SultanMahmud, when he became a member of parliament, I don’t think he used the word"Rohingya." In earlier Burmese history and in Arakan history, I haven’t seen the wordRohinhya. Even after independence, there was no such word.
What does "Rohingya” mean?
 When Sayagyi U Tha Tun was in good health, we visited whenever he was inRangoon. We had conversations on several themes: literature, history and other socialmatters. Once, he explained to me the meaning of Rohingya. The word derived froman Arakan word,
in Arakan means leaves falling from trees and blowing around without anypurpose. The word basically means anything or anyone wandering around without acause. I analyzed the word in the linguistic sense, and I once wrote an academicarticle in the
Pyinnya Padesa
journal, published by Rangoon University.
Nowadays, many Arakans see the Rohingya as a threat. Why?
 The underlying reason was the emergence of the Mujahids, who started an armedinsurrection in Arakan State to try to acquire their own land. Originally, they wereBengali from Bangladesh. In earlier days, they came to work in Arakan and returnedto their homes when the work was done. Then they faced difficulties living inBangladesh because it was so crowded. Afterward, the Mujahids attempted to set up aMuslim State in Buthee Taung, Maung Daw and Yathei Taung townships of MayuDistrict, where U Nu had granted them the right to live. When the Mujahids began toprosper, the Arakans didn't accept the idea. The Arakans see them as a danger,threatening their land, national identity and religion, and that is why the Arakans areso allergic to the word, Rohingya.
What is the background situation of Rohinja's emergence?
 That is a good question. The Rohingya issue is just a problem on the surface. Theunderlying problem is the idea of "Islamization" and the expansion of Islam. TheRohingya movement is funded by countries in North Africa and the Middle East.These countries have donated large amount of money and weapons. In SoutheastAsia, organizations in Malaysia support them. They support the expansion of Islam.They operate as “Burmese nationals” and “Arakan citizens” by using the name of Rohingya. Actually, Rohinja are not a race, and they are not Burmese citizens.

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