I had the opportunity to visit Rakhine state in August about five years ago. The camp that we visited was called Baw Du Pha. In a region where monsoon rains start in May and continue relentlessly until November, turning the area into a sea of mud and moss, Rohingya people who were lucky enough to have a pair of flip flops were holding them in their hands and lining up on a muddy path leading to the camp with their bare feet to greet us saying “As-Salam-Alaykum.” A pain reached into our hearts.
While people standing at the far side greeted us with tears in their eyes, those who were closer hugged us saying, “Save us, they are killing all of us,” in their own language. The tears pouring from people’s eyes were joining the rain of the country of water and mud. We all were shocked because we had never seen such poverty, fear, desperation and pain in any corner of the world before.
As I wrote in an article for Yeni Şafak at that time, the Rohingya Muslims were experiencing the following problems:
1 - Mosques and villages are burnt down, and places of worships cannot be repaired since the state does not grant permission. Repair without permission can be punished with imprisonment from six months to six years. 2 - A photograph which includes all family members has to be submitted to the state each year. The Rohingya people have to pay tax for each family member who is born and dies. 3 - Muslims do not have freedom of travel. Even traveling from one village to another is subject to approval and tax. 4 - Muslims are not allowed to build concrete houses; they have to be made of wood. The punishment for accidentally burning down houses that allegedly belong to the state is six years of imprisonment. 5 - A Muslim has to have a business partner who is Buddhist in order to open up a workplace. Half of the business belongs to the Buddhist without any capital input. 6 - Muslims have to pay tax to the state each year for animals they own. 7 - Muslim marriages are subject to approval from the state. Muslim women and men who want to get married have to pay tax to the state. Even after they pay their taxes, if the state does not approve, they cannot get married. 8 - When Muslims get sick, they cannot go to state hospitals. 9 – The highest level of education Muslims can receive is high school. 10 - Muslims cannot own fixed telephones, cell phones and motor vehicles. 11 - Muslims can be forced to work for Buddhists and the state without getting renumeration. 12 - Muslims do not have citizenship rights and identity cards. 13 - Muslims do not have passports.
Muslims in Rakhine - we personally witnessed the fear in their eyes - were exposed to alterity and enmity, and are labeled as the people “even whose breath is a fault.” Calling it racism and discrimination fall very short of describing this situation; lives, goods, properties and labor of the Rohingya people were of no value. A human looking at what Buddhists did to them was ashamed of being a human.
It is evident that rather than an improvement of conditions, the barbarity has increased since then. There is news that 3,000 Muslims have been killed in Rakhine in the last week keeps. And those who commit this massacre are the Myanmar’s military forces, that is, the state itself. Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar which had been ruled by a junta for decades and has only several years of democratic history, blames Muslim groups in her statements to the media organizations. However, what we saw in Rahkine was not terrorists but a pitch-dark ferocity.
After all, the problem in Rakhine is not terrorism; it is genocide. Which terrorist organization can have 400,000 members? Representatives of the Rohingya minority say that 400,000 Muslims have been killed using various methods in Rakine state so far. The balance sheet for last week alone is 3,000 people. The total population of Rakhine is a little over one million. If this does not constitute a genocide, then what does?
What is worse is the region is a complete closed box; any international institution or organization is not allowed to enter. The United Nations delegated its own research commission to clarify what is occurring in the region but the Myanmar government blocked the commission members from accessing the region. Other humanitarian aid organizations, which do not have any political purposes, are also distanced from the region.
As a result, the Rohingya people are left alone with their fate for all the world to watch. Those who cannot escape perish while those who try to escape to Bangladesh die either on the way, in a river or at sea. Those who happen to reach Bangladesh are sent back to their death by the Bangladeshi government. Yet humans are still surprised that the world has not completely collapsed around us.