Brief History: The Khmer Rouge Era


Before the Khmer Rouge

Even before many Western nations were formed, Cambodia was already a fluorishing empire. The Khmer empire (802 A.D. - 1432 A.D.) thrived for over 600 years, making it one of the longest-lived empires in history, and developed sophisticated waterways, architecture, and unique culture. 

Weakening of the empire

Squeezed between the forces of Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia began to lose power. By the 19th century, it became a French protectorate.  In 1941 it was controlled by Japan for the duration of WWII. After gaining independence, the nation briefly flourished. However, with influences of the Vietnam conflict and then-King Sihanouk's ties with China and North Vietnam, an indigenous communist revolutionary movement called the Khmer Rouge began to take center stage.



The rise of the khmer rouge

In 1975, Cambodia descended into its darkest era as the Khmer Rouge, under leader Pol Pot, overtook the nation for the next four years.  The Khmer Rouge's advent was proclaimed as "Year Zero", and one of cruelest reformations of a society was attempted.  In trying to transform Cambodia into a purely peasant-dominated society, the Khmer Rouge forced its citizens to move into the countryside and work as slaves in brutal conditions.  Hundreds of thousands - particularly those that were educated, as well as those suspected to have ideological differences with the state - were murdered.  Together with those that died of hunger and sicknesses, experts estimate that about 2-3 million Cambodians – 20-30% of the total population –perished during the Khmer Rouge era as well as the during the years that followed as many were caught in the crossfire between the Vietnamese and the fleeing Khmer Rouge soldiers.