By Daniel Otis
The Burmese conquest of Arakan in 1784 led to the death and displacement of thousands of ethnic Arakanese. In 1824, a British invasion caused even more carnage. Under both Burmese and British rule, the Arakanese remained resentful and rebellious.
As the Imperial Japanese Army advanced into Burma during the Second World War, British forces armed Rakhine state’s Muslims before retreating to India. In 1942, sectarian violence broke out between the Rohingya and Arakanese. Tens of thousands – the majority of them Arakanese – are believed to have perished.
In 1947, a year before Burmese independence, a small Mujahedeen movement formed in Arakan, hoping to create an Islamic state along the Bangladeshi frontier. The movement was quashed by the Burmese military in 1961. As Bangladesh descended into civil war in 1971, a renewed Islamic insurgency developed in Rakhine state. In 1978, the Burmese military killed countless Rohingya during Operation King Dragon. More than 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.
Small-scale fighting continued well into the 2000s, with the majority of atrocities now being committed by the Nasaka – Burma’s notoriously brutal frontier police. Despite receiving some training from Al Qaeda in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Rohingya insurgents never mounted another serious offensive. Their Al Qaeda connections, however, have provided Burmese authorities with the perfect excuse to continue its war against the Rohingya.
At times, the Arakanese have waged their own insurgencies. Since 1968, the Arakan Liberation Party’s military wing has fought a small-scale guerrilla war against Burmese authorities and the Rohingya. Much like the RNDP, it is striving for the independence of the state.
In Bangladesh and India’s eastern states, there are some 230,000 ethnic Arakanese – remnants of the Arakan kingdom’s dominion over the area in the 16th century. In 2012, Muslim mobs destroyed a dozen Buddhist temples in Bangladesh. If the persecution of Rakhine state’s Muslims continues, one can only imagine what will become of these isolated Buddhist communities.
“Exiled to nowhere” – Recent sectarian violence has brought renewed attention to the Rohingya. Brutal oppression is nothing new to this Muslim ethnic group, many of whom have chosen to endure a hellish existence in hostile Bangladesh rather than return to their native Myanmar
“Etched in time: Chin women” – Their faces marked with intricate tattoos, an older generation of Chin women embody a dying art of ritual in one of the country’s most isolated and persecuted states. Photographer Brent Lewin captures their story
“Gimme shelter” – As a new Myanmar emerges, the battle rages on for the inhabitants of Kachin, its northernmost state. Thousands of civilians have been displaced and ethnic troops have taken up arms once more to defend their homeland from government forces. Photographer Narciso Contreras captures their story
“War on Myanmar’s women” – With the constitution relegating women to second-class citizens and the national army increasingly employing sexualised violence as a weapon of subjugation, Myanmar is still very much a military man’s world
“A failed state?” – How Myanmar can position itself to join the ranks of successful nations