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Can I rewrite history to be whatever I want?

Htuk-Kan-Thein temple among the ancient Arakan ruins of Mrauk U (Source: Wikipedia) Rohigya village burned by Myanmar military using scorched earth tactics.

By JON FERNQUEST, Democratic Voice of Burma

Myanmar govt rewriting history that says word ‘Rohingya’ first used in 1948 but was used in 1799 in source available online for all to read.


Myanmar to ‘prove’ to Asean Rohingya are not indigenous

In Myanmar the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has announced that it is working on a treatise based on documents and chronologies written by historians throughout the ages to prove that the Rohingya community is not an indigenous group of Burma.

In a Burmese-language statement posted on its Facebook page on Monday, the ministry claimed that there was no mention of the word “Rohingya” in historical documents dating back to the British colonial era or even the pre- colonial period.

It said the term was first used in a report on Nov 20, 1948 by a Bengali MP named Abdul Gafar, writing to the minister of home affairs, in which he apparently fabricated a story about a shipwreck.

The ministry said that, when completed, the “thesis” proving that the word “Rohingya” never existed until recent times will be presented to the Office of Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Suu Kyi, and that — with their approval — it will ultimately be published as a book for public consumption.

View on Mrauk U right after sunrise from Shwetaung pagoda (Source: Wikipedia).


The use of the word “Rohingya” remains one of the most volatile issues defining communal tensions in Arakan State, with Myanmar government officials and embassies demanding that the term never be employed in diplomatic or official business dialogue.

Even Burma’s democratic leader and former human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi has banned the term in her presence.

The Myanmar government and population at large insist that the ethnic community in question are “Bengalis” who migrated from Bangladesh.

From 1799 book that discusses the use of the word “Rohingya’ (Source: Francis Buchanan. “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire.” Asiatic Researches 5 (1799): 219-240. in SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research)


The word “Rohingya” has in fact been in use since at least 1799, a long time ago.

A historical source published in 1799 clearly documents the use of the word (see above) and has been available online for over ten years for any historian to read and use in their work (see here & here).

Michael Charney, professor of Asian History at the School of Asian and African Studies (SOAS) in London points this out in a recent lecture (see below).

In the past, people did pass across borders a lot more freely than they do now, with members of many families living on either side of the border. The Thai-Burma borders in Maesai in Chiang Rai and Mae Sot in Tak are examples of this.

That Muslim and Buddhist groups have peacefully lived together in Arakan for hundreds of years before the current conflict is a fact established in professor Charney’s PhD dissertation: Where Jambudipa and Islamdom converged: Religious change and the emergence of Buddhist communalism in early modern Arakan (fifteenth to nineteenth centuries) (available to read for free here).


The ministry’s statement went on to say that the chairman of the Arakan State Advisory Commission, Kofi Annan, had “clearly stated ‘there was no violence, genocide, and absolutely no Rohingya’,” when speaking to reporters on Dec 6 during his trip to Arakan State.

However, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) (that wrote this article) has no record of the former UN secretary-general making any such comment.

Khoe Thaung temple in Mrauk U (Source: Wikipedia)


The ministry further claimed that domestic and overseas elements have been pushing their “Rohingya agenda” with the intention of damaging Burma’s image and reputation on the world stage, and creating instability in the country.

Northern Rakhine state, formerly known as Arakan, has been the subject of intense international scrutiny in recent weeks.

The Myanmar army continues to round up suspected militants involved in a coordinated attack on border guard police posts on Oct 9.

With the government previously referring to the attack as motivated by Islamic extremism, the crackdown has targeted self-identifying Rohingya Muslims.


“Scorched-earth” is “a military strategy that targets anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area” this can include burning the houses and food supply of villages (see here & in the author’s own work on pre-modern Burmese warfare here).

Recently, scorched earth tactics have reportedly been applied to Rohingya villages as demonstrated in this Human Rights Watch infographic (source here):

(Source: Human Rights Watch)