The world in general is still ignorant about what is Kampuchea Krom. Today, the origin of Kampuchea Krom is being systematically effaced from the world history by the Vietnamese colonialist government and its supporters.
According to the July 12-25, 1996 issue of Phnom Penh Post which cover the "Angkor Borei: The Cradle of Cambodia?" It said: "Vietnamese scholars are quoted as saying: 'The Funan (Nokor Phnom) empire existed before Khmer ethnicity arose. Linguistic evidence that these people were indeed Khmer is simply lacking".
Supporting this statement was an American scholar, Miriam Stark, who said:
"There is no question that the people of Angkor empire were Khmer. But as to Funan (Nokor Phnom), we don't know what language they spoke, though we can find out how old the site is (Angkor Borei), what agriculture was engaged in, what the demographic potential of the site was. We can learn how they lived, and what they did. But whether they were Khmer is perhaps an unanswering question."
Kampuchea Krom is an un-official Khmer name for the Mekong delta region, comprised the entire southern part of Vietnam. Its territory measures up to 65,000 square kilometers. The indigenous people of Kampuchea Krom as Nokor Phnom (or Funan, in the corrupt Chinese translation). As a commercial power, Nokor Phnom was well known for its deep-sea city of O Keo (historians also used the corrupt term, Oc-eo).
Its exact location is in the Kramoun Sar (Rach Gia) province. O Keo was a trading center in Southeast Asia where the Indian, the Arabs, the Roman, the Chines and Japanese met. Many Khmer and non-Khmer coins, including those of Rome have been found at O Keo in the surrounding provinces. Economically, the Khmer of Nokor Phnom were geniuses in their own right as is shown by their mastery of water management. One can still find hundreds if not thousands of canals today in the Mekong delta of Kampuchea Krom. They were built by the ancient Khmers of Nokor Phnom.
In fact, Khmer Krom do not call their water streams as "Stung" as the Khmer in Cambodia called them. But they know only "Prek." For "Prek" means canal and "Stung" means natural streams. This demonstrated that the Khmer Krom have their water management schemes being built into their cultural psychology long ago. They were the masters of the wet rice culture.
During the Nokor Phnom period, Chinese and Indian sources proved that "Buddhism in Kampuchea was old as Brahmanism," said Peter Gyallay-Pap, in Radical Conservatism, 1990. Archaeologists discovered statutes of Buddha as well as Lokecsvara, Vishnu, Shiva, Harihara, and many others scattered throughout Kampuchea Krom.
During the Khmer Empire, according to Malleret, in his La Minorite Cambodgien de Chochine, hospitals bult by the thirteen century Khmer King Jayavarman VII have been located near Prek Russey (today Can Tho). Historically Nokor Phnom was the Khmer Empire's first state, that is Kampuchea Krom today.
Kampuchea Krom was part of the present Cambodia until May 21, 1949, when the colonialist French ceded it illegally to Vietnam. Thus today, Cambodia continues to have its legal rights over this former territory. The author of this article is also a Khmer Krom.
Not long ago, we Khmer children enjoyed singing a song then "den dei Khmer pre tha Sovannaphum" (Khmer nation means Sovannabhumi). It was a nationalistic song that touched our hearts very deeply. Our song evoked in us nostalgia for the glorious Khmer past.
As children we had learned that, since the time of Buddha, 500 B.C., Sovannaphum was what today is called mainland Southeast Asia, and the Khmer Empire encompassed the main part of that. We had also learned that evidence has been discovered showing that the Khmer civilization can be found in Laos, in Thailand, and in Vietnam, where millions of ethnic Khmer civilization to today's regional geo-political realities.
Westerners came to know the land of the first Khmer state Nokor Phnom was in a sinonized term Funan. Later they knew it was the "Lower Cochin-China" which the Khmer called it Kampuchea Krom (Lower Cambodia). In 1861, during which time the Vietnamese invaded this Khmer land, French scholars Cortambert and de Rosny, in their Le Kambodge Annamite, wrote:
"Lower Cochin-China, or Vietnam's Cambodia, which is the part of Cambodia which had submitted to the Annmite Empire, is the southern most part of this empire before the French conquest. It is today (1861) almost in our hands. It extends to the edge of "Cap de Kambodge (today Ca Mau) and swings to the northeast with the rest of the Kingdom of Cambodia. We can compare its extent with that of Britain. This country (Kampuchea Krom) is extremely fertile, formed entirely of the Mekong delta, and it is watered by the Dong Nai and the river of Prei Nokor (today Ho Chi Minh City). It is a great place for commerce. It is the connection between Thailand, Cambodia, English India, the Malaka Strait, and Burma on one side, and so the other side with Cochinchina proper (Annam), China, the Philippines, and others (author's translation from French)."
Later, in 1940s, French archaeologists such as Louis Malleret devoted his research to the past history of Kampuchea Krom. According to Malleret, in the B.S.E.I., Vol.12, p.8, said: â€œFrom the beginning of the first century to the thirteenth century, Kampuchea Krom was then part of the Khmer Empireâ€.
One map, compiled with scientific proof in very recent years (1942) show about two hundred Khmer sites scattered around the delta. This map revealed the existence of the ancient canals, and the basins where today are the vast rice fields.
After the 6th century, Nokor Phnom joined its sister state of Chen Lea (the known corrupt term is also Chenla) to form two Chen Lea(s): Chen lea tuk (Chenla Water) and Chen lea kauk (Chenla Dry or land). This union lasted for two hundred years. However, for a brief period they were both being dominated by Java until 802 when a united Khmer Empire emerged.
It was the work of a Khmer monarch Jayavarman II (802-869). He was a Khmer prince who had been sent to Java to study. Upon his return, Jayavarman II brought home not only the Javanese polity devaraja( divine ruler) but was with that polity which he freed the Khmers from Javanese conquerors. And the Khmer Empire was formed (9th to 13th century). Since then, Khmer Empire flourished not only economically but culturally as recognized today by the art and architecture of Angkor Wat which was built by the Khmer king, Suriyavarman II (1113-1150).
The Khmer kings were not only followers of Hinduism (devaraja) but Mahayana Buddhism (Budddharaja), including Suriyavarman (.1050) and Jayavarman VII (d. 1218?).
By 13th century, the Khmer Empire began to crumble when faced with the newcomers from the north. First were the Thai. John Cady, in his Thailand, Burma, Laos, & Cambodia, 1966, said: "His reign (Suriyavarman II) witness the beginnings of the infiltration of Thai-Laos people by inclusion of Thai mercenary troops in the Cambodian army." David Steinberg, in his Cambodia: Its people, its society, its culture, 1957, also said:
"Jayavarman VII achieved great things, but after his death the empire began to fall apart. The people were exhausted by huge construction projects and by wars of conquest. Mongol pressure on the Thai kingdom in the thirteenth century gave greater impetus to Thai infiltration of Cambodia. By the end of the thirteenth century, independent Thai kingdoms had been created in former Khmer territory. In 1353, a Thai army captured Angkor; later the Kabujans (Khmer) regained it, but wars with The Thai contined for centuries. Angkor was looted a number of times, and thousands of artists and scholars were carried away to slavery in Thailand. In 1430-31 the Thais again captured Angkor, this time aided by treachery within the Khmer capital. This conquest marks the end of the magnificent Khmer era, as nearly as any event can. The Khmer recaptured their city, but abandoned it as a capital."
The next four hundred years (1432-1864) was the transition period of the Khmer Empire, from a great nation to a nearly extinct French protectorate. During the first half of this period, Cambodia was involved in a duel with Thailand, in which Thailand claimed suzerainty over Cambodia and for centuries tried to validate its claim by forceful means, as well as through puppet Khmer kings.
Despite Thailand was showing greater strength in winning the wars over Cambodia, but the Thai did allow the Khmer to keep what was Khmer. By contrast, when the Khmer came in contact with the new neighbor to the east, Vietnam, it was a different matter. Earlier we described Kampuchea Krom as a fertile land, suitable for the northern neighbors to move in.
Furthermore, the Khmer kings failed to a trap set by the Vietnamese court with sordid schemes. Jean Moura, in his Le Royaume du Cambodge, said:
"In 1618, in the month of March, Prince Prea-chey-chessda was crowned under the title 'Samdech prea-chey-chessda -thireach-reamea-thupphadey-barommopit... At this moment, the King of Annam presented one his daughters to be married to the newly crowned king of Cambodia. This princess was very beautiful. She succeeded in making the king fall in love with her. She was made the queen of the Kingdom."
In 1623, the King of Annam sent an ambassador with a rich present to the court of Oudong, then the Cambodian capital. At the beginning of this mission, the Vietnamese ambassador was ordered to seek authorization from the King of Cambodia, which meant the cessation of the Vietnamese government from paying customs for obtaining Prei Nokor (today Ho Chi Minh City).
The Cambodian king, without objection, accepted these propositions and the Vietnamese established themselves on the territory of Prei Nokor. This kind of sordid acts on the part of the Vietnamese authorities created presidents for the Khmers to never again trust the Vietnamese.
Furthermore, the Vietnamese were much brutal then the Thai, when the former conquered the Khmers. The Khmers always remind their children of the case, in 1813 during the forced labor of digging the Vinh Te canal. The Vietnamese soldiers buried the Khmer labourers alive and used their heads as stands for a wood stove to boil water for the Vietnamese masters. At that moment, the Vietnamese torturers said, "Be careful not to spill my master's tea (Dung nhuc nhit kumpop te ong anh)".
According to Keith Weller Taylor, in his The Birth of Vietnam (1983), the original homeland of the Vietnamese is Tonking. Its society was formed by feudalism. The Hong Bang dynasty of Lac (247 B.C.) were their rulers. Another succeeded ruler was Thuc (257-208 B.C.).
After this period, the Vietnamese were forced to stay under the domination of China for twelve centuries. The Chinese relinquished Vietnam in 939, but Vietnam still received strong influence form the Chinese court. Because of the uneasy relationship with China, the Vietnamese looked to the south and become expansionist conquerors themselves for the next thousand years.
This southward movement was well known in Vietnamese as Nam Tien. The Vietnamese used a picture of the growing bamboo trees to symbolize their Nam Tien. Their philosophy is that just like how the bamboo trees grow, Vietnamese territory will always spread endlessly.
After taking the entire Champa Kingdom (currently central part of Vietnam) in 1658, the Vietnamese then moved slowly to control Khmer territory, first in Kampuchea Krom and later they took the entire Cambodia. As mentioned above, the Vietnamese court of Hue received permission from the King of Cambodia in 1623 to station its troops in Prei Nokor.
By 1698, Vietnam totally occupied Prei Nokor and baptized with its new name, Saigon (and since 1975 communist victory it has been re-named Ho Minh City). In fact, Vietnamese changed all the Khmer names of the Kampuchea Krom's villages, towns and cities to Vietnamese. It was simply a means which the Vietnamese used to steal the land from the Khmer indigenous people and kept the world ignorance about the existence of Kampuchea Krom.
Despite the Khmer court issued some kind of agreements with the Vietnamese court, the indigenous people, the Khmer Krom refused to recognize them.
In 1743, the Khmer Krom of Khleang (Vietnamized Soc Trang) province revolved and expelled the Vietnamese. Khmer army, in 1748, also crushed the Vietnamese army at Sap Angkam, in Cambodia's Pursat province.
In 1776, people of Peam Me Sar (My Tho) and Long Hor (Vinh Long) provinces revolted and liberated their provinces. From 1835 to 1847, the famous people uprising took place in the province of Preah Trapeang (Travinh), under the leadership of Khmer governor, Chavay Kuy.
In 1841, as a pacifist Khmer Buddhist, Chavay Kuy gave himself up in exchange for the Vietnamese court of Hue's recognition and agreement for the Khmer Krom to have their rights and freeedom of worship, of following their traditional costumes, and practice their education in Khmer language.
Following the Vietnamese beheaded Chavay Kuy, in 1841, Khmer people through out the country rose up against the Vietnamese armies.
In 1858, the people of Moat Chrouk (Chau Doc) liberated their territory and rejoined it with Cambodia. In the same year, the Khmer army also drove the Vietnamese out the the provinces of Khleang (Soc Trang), Preah Trapeang (Travinh), and Kramoun Sar (Rach Gia).
According to Adhemard Leclere, in his Histoire de Cambodge, 1941, King Ang Duong, in 1857, secretly contacted the French Emperor Napoleon III, through a French Catholic misssionary, Monseigneur Miche, invited the French to attack the Vietnamese forces stationed in Prei Nokor, with a promise to pay 500 (men) after the victory.
In 1858, Napoleon III ordered Admiral Douda de la Grandiere to follow this request. King Ang Duong then sent Khmer Royal Army to liberate the southern Treang province, and others including Bassac, Preah Trapeang, Kramoun Sar, and Moat Chrouk, under the command of the Khmer General Kep. After, King Ang Duong passed away in 1860, his son, King Norodom came to the throne.
In 1864, the Khmer King with a promise from French Admiral de la Grandiere, that France will return Kampuchea Krom (known as French Cochinchina) solely to Cambodia upon France withdrawal, placed Cambodia under French protection.
However, in 1884, at a gun point, King Norodom (son of Ang Duong and grandfather of the current King Norodom Sihanouk) was forced to sign off Cambodia to become a French colony. However, under the French Khmer Krom enjoyed extent privileges, including having their rights to be Khmer citizen in Cambodia (same practice also adopted by the current Royal Government of Cambodia), their rights to follow Khmer educational system, their rights to worship Buddhist religion, their rights to hold governmental positions, including governorship of all Khmer provinces. Khmer Buddhist temple received direct order from Phnom Penh patriarchs.
In fact, in 1941, after being crowned, King Noro dom Sihanouk went to province of Khleang and inaugurated the Friendship Association of Khmer Kampuchea Krom, which today has its branches throughout the world, including this one.
However, the French colonialist government betrayed its own words when they departed from Kampuchea Krom. At midnight of May 21s, 1949, in front a great protest from the Khmer delegation headed by its Prime Minister, Chhean Vam and his delegates including Son Sann and Princess Ping Peang Yukunthor, the French National Assembly voted to connect its French Cochinchina (Kampuchea Krom) not to Cambodia which has historical and legal rights, but to Vietnam. V.M. Reddi, in his A History of Cambodian Independence, 1970, wrote:
"Perhaps what affected the Cambodian nationalist feelings most was the transfer to Vietnam of the three western provinces of Cochinchina, namely, Rach Gia [Kramoun Sar], Soc Trang [Kleang], Travinh [Preah Trapeang] , which the Cambodian claimed as theirs on the basis of race, history, and population. Ever since the establishment of the French protectorate, Cambodia never ceased to remind France of its historical rights over these areas. In spite of these reminders, France, having committed herself to the Bao Dai solution, transferred them to Vietnam. No matter whether France's troubles in Vietnam did or did not end, certainly, she gained the displeasure of the Cambodian nation."
France irresponsible actions caused the then Khmer Prime Minister Chhean Vam to present his resignation to King Norodom Sihanouk, at the Phnom Penh Royal Palace. But worst was that France had indirectly subjugated Khmer Krom for life of their rights to a nation-hood and their dignity as a human race, despite the French how bad the Vietnamese treated Khmer Krom.
For instance, in 1945, the communist Vietminh persecuted many Khmer Krom a la Nazi styles. In which cases Khmer Krom leaders and intellectuals were called upon to gather themselves in the rice granaries (lam, in Vietnamese), in the provinces of Kleang (Soc Trang). As the granaries were filled with Khmer Krom, the doors were ordered to be closed and petroleum were poured upon them.
Finally, the Vietnam set Khmer Krom on fire, alive! After the French was defeated in its Indochina, in post 1954 Geneva Conference, the Ngo Dinh Diem regime of Republic of Vietnam shown its true claws with his famous decree of August 29, 1956. He simply erased the Khmer nationality from the Khmer Krom by calling them "Nguoi Viet goc Mien" (Vietnamese of Khmer origin). This was a new term which was adopted by all following Vietnamese governments. Gerald C. Hickey, in his Accommodation and Coalition in South Vietnam, 1970, said:
"The policy of Ngo Dinh Diem government was to integrate the ethnic minorities into the national framework by forced assimilation."
In 1969, twenty five thousand Khmer Krom Buddhist monks, under the leadership of the Venerables Lam Em and Kim Sang, conducted non-violent demonstration in front of the former Norodom Palace (which was being Vietnamized into Dinh Doc Lap--Independence Palace) in Saigon, demanding the minority rights for Khmer Krom from the Thieu-Ky regime. The American Vietnam War ended when communist forces took over Cambodia on April 17, 1975, Vietnam on April 30, 1975, and Vietnam on April 30, 1975, and Laos in a later date. In 1978, the communist Vietnam they invaded and occupied Cambodia for the 13 years.
Ho Chi Minh's political scheme of establishing the Indochina Federation under the Vietnamese control realized. The Khmer resistant forces with the support from United Nations in 1991 was able to have Vietnam agreed to relinquish Cambodia. However, under the communist Vietnamese regimes, Khmer Krom continued to face greater suffering, including exterminations and persecutions.
There has not been Western studiesâ€™ being done, regarding how the Vietnamese communists treated Khmer Krom. Yet there were many un-reported incidents happened. Many witnesses who are alive today can testify about the communist Vietnamese atrocities against Khmer Krom in the past and present.
In relations to the U.S Department of State sponsoring the so-called "study of genocide in Cambodia," another study should be conducted, especially regarding how the communist Vietnam conducted its genocide actions against the Khmer people.
After the 1976 Khmer Krom up rising, many Khmer Krom, especially Buddhist monks were persecuted by the Vietnamese authorities. One of them was the Venerable Kim Toc Chuong, the Buddhist patriarch in the Preah Trapeang province. Many thousands other Khmer Krom were imprisoned and faced brutal tortures until today.
Khmer Krom ask the world nothing but their rights to freedom, human dignities, and self-determination, principles which are embedded in the Charter of the United Nations. An organization of community of nations, which Vietnam is a member.