The long history of Cambodia began with the first Khmer empire called Funan known not only as Khmer’s but also as Southeast Asia’s oldest state. And it seems like today’s Khmer customs and culture are, though not much, influenced by such a great Dynasty.
Established in the first century, Funan is believed to have followed the Indian civilization and thus used Samskrit as the written and spoken language and Hinduism as the formal religion. The prosperity of Funan Dynasty lasted approximately 600 years before passing to another kingdom of Chenla and then to the powerful Angkor Empire whose reputation and legacy visually remained till the present day.
Angkor Empire is the most renowned for its spectacular temples huge in size built throughout the territory that covered almost what is currently South East Asia. The extreme power of Angkor is marked on top of the list of all other periods in Cambodian history thanks to most successful Kings like Preah Bat Jayavarman II, Preah Bat Indra Varman I, Preah Bat Surya Varman II, and especially Preah Bat Jayavarman VII.
Angkor, a state with the most predominant creations on earth, began to develop aggressively in all areas, especially agricultural and architectural field that included intricate irrigation systems, water reservoirs, and countless magical and religious temples that in turn brought about a unique civilization to Khmer people. Unfortunately, No one stays on the top forever, and Angkor is no exceptional case.
The golden age of Angkor era lasted peacefully and proudly for about 650 years before an immediate fall down after the death of the most achieved and famous king Preah Bat Jayavarman VII in the 13th century, which marked the sudden shift of Angkor’s power. Not long after the loss of the king came the invasion from Siam (Thai) on the west frontier and the Annam on the east, which left the Kingdom insecure for centuries. The war then continued further enough for Cambodia to loss three western provinces to Siam and Cochin-China to the Annam in 17th century.
The continually invaded Angkor later, not surprisingly, experienced an abandonment as the whole Cambodian capital population migrated to the new City of Hloung Vek where had been home to the sympathetic Khmer empire until it was captured by Siam in 1594. Shortly thereafter, the Cambodian capital was transferred to U’dong and then Phnom Penh eventually.
Tensions and wars in Cambodian territory continued till 19th century when the King Norodom signed a Protectorate Treaty with France in 1863, which ensured to keep Cambodia into existence with no more threat from the neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. Following the King Norodom’s death in 1904, the thrown was passed to his cousin, Preah Bat Sisowath before returning to the 18-year-old Norodom Sihanouk in 1941.
A few years later during the Second World War in 1945, King Sihanouk took the advantage of French’s defeat to Japanese, working tirelessly for years to earn Cambodia independency on its own. Consequently, his devotions had been rewarded as Cambodia was granted the full independence in 1953, which made his name, Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, place in the most successful Kings list of Cambodia’s history.
After its independence granted, Cambodia seemed to enjoy the wealth of peace once again under the rule of King Sihanouk. However, the prosperous period sadly ended as soon as King Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lonol on March 18, 1970. Since then, the country had become completely chaotic and involved in series of civil wars before the communist forces, known as Khmer Rough, seized the power from the American-backed government in 1975 and made the situation even worse.
Emergence of the Khmer Rouge: combat limaxed on April 18, 1975 when the Lon Nol regime was overthrown by Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge forces. The four years of nightmarish Khmer Rouge rule led to the state-sponsored extermination of citizens by its own government. Between 1 million and 2 million in among of 7 million people were massacred on the “killing fields” of Cambodian or worked to deaththrough forced labor. Pol Pot's radical vision of transforming the country into a Marxist agrarian society led to the virtual extermination of the country's professional and technical classes.
Pol Pot was ousted by Vietnamese forces on January 7, 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, where they were joined by forces loyal to the ousted King Sihanouk in a guerrilla movement aimed at overthrowing the Heng Samrin government. The Vietnamese plan originally called for a withdrawal by early 1990 and a negotiated political settlement. The talks became protracted, however, and a UN agreement was not signed until 1992, when King Sihanouk was appointed leader of an interim Supreme National Council convened to run the country until elections could be held in July 1993.
Free elections in May 1993 saw the defeat of Heng Samrin's successor, Hun Sen, who refused to accept the outcome of the vote. In early July, Hun Sen took advantage of the country's political turmoil to depose Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the country's only popularly elected leader. Hun Sen later launched a brutal purge, executing more than 40 political opponents. Shortly after the July coup, the Khmer Rouge organized a show trial of their notorious 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. He 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 was able to regain its UN seat, lost nearly a year earlier as a result of Hun Sen's coup.
Cambodia Joins the World Trade: Organization, the elections in July 2003 resulted in a stalemate—none of the parties won the two-thirds majority required to govern alone. Almost a year later, in June 2004, Ranariddh and Hun Sen agreed in June 2004 to form a coalition, with Hun Sen remaining as prime minister. In August, Cambodia's parliament ratified the country's entry into the World Trade Organization. In March 2003, the UN and Cambodia announced that after five years they had finally agreed on a
special tribunal to try senior Khmer Rouge officials on charges of genocide. Among those who were expected to stand trial were Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who ran the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, and Ta Mok, alias the Butcher, who died in 2006 before his trial took place. In April 2005, the UN agreed to a funding arrangement for the tribunal.
King Norodom Sihanouk announced in Oct. 2004 that he had abdicated and selected his son, Prince NORODOM Sihamoni, to succeed him. 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 at least seven activists and critics arrested in 2005 and 2006. Facing criticism from home and abroad, Hun Sen withdrew charges against four of the activists.
Khmer Rouge Officials Face Trial: Prosecutors trying senior Khmer Rouge officials made their first indictment in July 2007, charging Kaing Guek Eav with crimes against humanity. In September 2007, Nuon Chea, who was second-in-command to Pol Pot, was arrested and charged with war crimes. He sought bail in November on charges against humanity, becoming the first Khmer Rouge defendant to appear in court. The tribunal denied his plea in March 2008. The first trial began in February 2009 in Phnom Penh, with Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who ran the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, as the defendant.
In July 2008, Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, designated the Preah Vihear temple, which sits on the Cambodian side of the Cambodian-Thai border, as a UN World Heritage Site. The move stirred nationalist emotions on both sides and fueled the tension between the countries. Both countries moved troops to disputed land near the temple. Squirmishing broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops in October 2008, and two Cambodian soldiers were killed.
Today, Cambodia is in general sense considered a safe and fascinating country to explore for every traveler. In the process of the vast development, Cambodia’s economy was supported by the 2 important sectors of garment and tourism industry as well as the indispensable sources of foreign aids.