International Culture and a Recent Volatile History
Khmer, often associated with Cambodia, stretches back 1,400
years. Present-day Cambodia came under Khmer rule around 600.
The majority of Cambodians (nearly 90%) are of Khmer heritage.
An even greater proportion speaks Khmer, the official language
of Cambodia. The word for Peace in the Khmer language is Santekphep.
Other languages spoken include French, Chinese, Vietnamese
and English. Cambodia is about 95% Theravada Buddhist, the
remaining population following Islam, atheism or animism.
golden age of Cambodia occurred between the 9th and 14th century,
during the Angkor period when a powerful and prosperous empire
flourished, dominating almost all of inland Southeast Asia.
However, the Angkor empire eventually collapsed after much
in-fighting between royalty and constant warring with increasingly
powerful neighbors, Siam and Dai Viett.
temples from the golden age, such as Bayon and Angkor Wat,
are scattered throughout Thailand. Cambodian, Laos, and Vietnam,
a reminder of the grandeur of Khmer arts and culture. Cambodia's
achievements in art, architectures, music, and dance have
had a great influence on neighboring kingdoms, including Thailand
and Laos. The affect of Angkorian culture can be seen today
in those countries.
Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire, followed the Hindu
religion and built a magnificent temple complex at Angkor.
Buddhism was introduced into Cambodia in the 12th century
during the rule of Jayavaram VII, becoming the predominant
religion. But the kingdom known as Kambuja fell into decline
after Jayavaram's reign and was nearly annihilated by Thai
and Vietnamese invaders. Its power was further diminished
through 1863 when France colonized the region, joining Cambodia,
Laos, and Vietnam into a single protectorate known as French
The French usurped all but ceremonial powers
from Norodom (1834-1904), King of Cambodia from 1860 to 1904.
He was the son of King Ang Duong, and the half-brother of
Prince Si Votha and of Sisowath. When Norodom died, the French
passed over his sons and handed the throne to Sisowath who
ruled the country with his son until 1941. The coronation
of King Sihanouk, along with the Japanese occupation during
the war, reinforced the sentiment that the region should be
free from outside control.
After World War II, Cambodians sought independence,
but France was reluctant to part with its colony. Cambodia
was granted independence within the French Union in 1949.
But the French-Indochinese War provided an opportunity for
Sihanouk to gain full military control of the country. He
abdicated in 1955 in favor of his parents, remaining head
of the government. When his father died in 1960, Sihanouk
became chief of state without returning to the throne. In
1963, he sought a guarantee of Cambodia’s neutrality
from all parties in the Vietnam War.
North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops were using eastern Cambodia
as a safe haven from which to launch attacks into South Vietnam.
An indigenous Communist guerrilla movement, the Khmer Rouge,
began to put pressure on the government in Phnom Penh. On
March 18, 1970, while Sihanouk was abroad, anti-Vietnamese
riots broke out and Gen. Lon Nol overthrew Sihanouk. The Vietnam
peace agreement of 1973 stipulated withdrawal of foreign forces
from Cambodia, but fighting continued between Hanoi-backed
insurgents and U.S.-supplied government troops.
Combat climaxed in April 1975 when Pol Pot,
leader of the Khmer Rouge, overthrew the Lon Nol regime. The
four years of nightmarish Khmer Rouge rule led to the state-sponsored
extermination of citizens by its own government. Between one
and two million people were massacred on the “killing
fields” of Cambodia or worked to death through forced
labor. Pol Pot's radical vision of transforming the country
into a Marxist agrarian society led to extermination of the
country's professional and technical classes.
Vietnamese forces ousted Pol Pot on Jan. 8,
1979, and a new pro-Hanoi government led by Heng Samrin was
installed. Pol Pot and 35,000 Khmer Rouge fighters fled into
the hills of western Cambodia. They were joined by forces
loyal to the ousted Sihanouk in a guerrilla movement to overthrow
the Heng Samrin government. The Vietnamese plan originally
called for a withdrawal by early 1990 and a negotiated political
settlement. A United Nations agreement was signed in 1992,
when Sihanouk was appointed leader of an interim Supreme National
Council convened to run the country until elections could
be held in 1993.
During free elections in May, Heng Samrin's
successor, Hun Sen, was defeated, but refused to accept the
outcome of the vote. In early July, Hun Sen took advantage
of the country's political turmoil deposed Prince Norodom
Ranariddh, the country's only popularly elected leader.
later launched a brutal purge, executing more than 40 political
opponents. After that coup, the Khmer Rouge organized a show
trial of leader, Pol Pot who had not been seen by the West
in more than two decades. He was sentenced to house arrest
for his crimes against humanity, and then died on April 15,
1998. In the July 1998 election, Hun Sen defeated opposition
leaders Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh, but the opposition
parties accused him of voter fraud. Cambodia regained its
United Nations seat, lost nearly a year earlier as a result
of Hun Sen's coup.
Elections in July 2003 resulted in a stalemate,
as none of the parties won the two-thirds majority required
to govern. In June 2004, Ranariddh and Hun Sen agreed to form
a coalition with Hun Sen, the remaining prime minister. In
August, Cambodia's parliament ratified the country's entry
into the World Trade Organization.
2003 the United Nations and Cambodia announced that they had
agreed on a special tribunal to try senior Khmer Rouge officials
on charges of genocide. In April 2005, the UN agreed to a
funding arrangement for the tribunal. Prosecutors made their
first indictment in July 2007, charging Kaing Guek Eav with
crimes against humanity. In September 2007, Nuon Chea, second-in-command
to Pol Pot, was arrested and charged with war crimes. King
Norodom Sihanouk abdicated his throne in October 2004 to his
son, Prince Norodom Sihamoni. Prince Sihamoni, a ballet dancer
and choreographer, lived in France and had kept a distance
from Cambodian politics.
In Feb. 2005, opposition leader Sam Rainsy
was stripped of parliamentary immunity. He fled to France
and was convicted in December in absentia of defaming Prime
Minister Hun Sen. He received a royal pardon in 2006. Hun
Sen has used defamation laws to crack down on political opponents
and human rights groups, having seven activists and critics
arrested in 2005 and 2006. Later, he withdrew charges against
four of the activists.
Culture of Cambodia is rich and varied, dating back many centuries.
Its culture has also been greatly influenced by Thailand,
Laos and especially by the Indian religions, Buddhism and
Hinduism, as well as by Indian culture and civilization. Indian
language and arts reached mainland Southeast Asia around the
1st century A.D., probably brought there by seafaring merchants.
Cambodia culture also absorbed elements from Javanese and
is especially important in the country, as Angkorian architects
and sculptors created temples that mapped the cosmic world
in stone. Khmer decorations drew inspiration from religion,
carving mythical creatures from Hinduism and Buddhism on the
walls. Temples were built according to ancient Khmer dictates,
each with a basic temple layout that included a central shrine,
a courtyard, an enclosing wall, and a moat. Khmer motifs use
many creatures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, such as
the garuda, a mythical bird.
Cambodia is located in Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf
of Thailand, between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. About 75%
of the country consists of the Tonle Sap Basin and the Mekong
Lowlands. To the southeast is the Mekong Delta, which extends
through Vietnam to the South China Sea. The basin and delta
regions are rimmed with mountain ranges to the southwest (the
Cardamom Mountains the Elephant Range) and to the north (Dangrek
Mountains). Higher land to the northeast and to the east merges
into the Central Highlands of southern Vietnam.
The soil for Gary Simpson’s Common Ground
191 Project was collected in Wat Phnom, the historical site
of the founding of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Jeff
Daigle, who collected the soil wrote in an email. “According
to legend, a lady named Penh found a tree floating in the
water after a great flood. In the tree were several Buddha
statues. Madame Penh built a temple (wat in Khmer) to house
the statues on a nearby hill (Phnom in Khmer. The hill became
known as Phnom Penh (Penh’s hill), from which the city
that grew around the hill took its name.”
is dominated by monsoons, caused by annual alternating high
pressure and low pressure systems over the Central Asian landmass.
In summer, moist southwest monsoons are drawn landward from
the Indian Ocean. The flow is reversed during the winter,
as the northeast monsoon sends back dry air. The southern
third of the country has a two-month dry season; the northern
two-thirds, a four-month one. Temperatures are fairly uniform
throughout the Tonle Sap Basin area, averaging around 25°C.
Typhoons, tropical cyclones that often devastate coastal Vietnam,
rarely cause damage in Cambodia.