The Unspoken Pain

Source: TPO Cambodia

Ankles and wrists locked between rusted chains, attached to the floor. Fresh red blood splattered on the once-clean white and yellow checkered floor. Crystalized salt poured onto the new gashes. Screams emitted throughout the former classroom, yet, the face of the indoctrinated remained cold. Standing above the victim in full black uniform with Khmer red Kroma, they had knives and guns, tools for obtaining the pressing answers they wanted from the innocents. Who would’ve known they were once innocent too? 

Among today’s Khmer Rouge genocide survivors, many once served the Khmer Rouge regime only to save their lives As teens, they were brainwashed to believe “a hoe in one hand and a gun in the other,”  or “to keep you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.” 

Due to the fear of death, a love to improve their country or a sense of responsibility, many children and young adults were members of the Khmer Rouge. Many were separated from their parents, and the only way to survive was to serve the regime. Others had the passion to save their country from falling into others’ power, not knowing how much harm they caused. 

“When I was forced to take the position of team leader, I had the hopes of doing it right, but in reality—it went all wrong.” — Phor Theun, a former Khmer Rouge team leader.

Even though the events happened over 3 decades ago, guilt and vivid imagery of bloodshed are still embedded in those survivors’ mind. Vun Met, a former Khmer Rouge company leader expressed, “when I witnessed the killings, it was as if I was watching a film. The images of the killings kept replaying in my mind and made it very difficult for me to sleep.” 

Fear of discrimination and the lack of accountability has created a silence among former members of the regime. They fear revenge, and not being forgiven. They fear they can’t share their story with anyone or not being understood or believed. 

“Having little or no social support after the event,” as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggested, only put the victims at higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Since Cambodia is still at an early stage in term of mental healthcare—lack of mental health fund and services —, there is a lack of support for that group of people. 

Nonetheless, with Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) Cambodia’s project titled “Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing,” those people got the opportunity to share their stories and seek understanding. TPO has created one of the few platforms for survivors to raise their voice. Phor Phut, a former Khmer Rouge medic stated, “I felt that there was no one I could share my worries with except TPO.” 

Often times, we focus on the surviving victims as the only casualties and neglect the fact that the members, too, suffer greatly from the trauma, if not more. The smell of blood and gunpowder remains in their soul. Many ask for forgiveness. But rarely do they talk about it. 

As the genocide becomes more of a history, Cambodia needs to become a more supportive society; we need to accommodate. “I hope that victim-survivors will one day cease their discrimination and know that not all former Khmer Rouge members are bad people,” Vun Met suggested.

Quotes sources: TPO Cambodia

By Thathiny Tep

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