At the end of their colonial rule in the country, the British left the region of Arakan to the Burmese. Today, the territory of the Arakan Muslims has declined from 50,000 square kilometers to 10,000 square kilometers. The ongoing violence in the region is described by both the Vatican and Amnesty International as a brutal massacre of Muslims in Arakan.
It is no coincidence that the Turkish media have only just noticed the incidents of violence that have claimed many lives over the last month as these media, which often only use reports in Arabic by relying on their delayed English translations, have only recently tuned in to what is taking place.
Fatih Er from the A Haber news channel has extensively reported on the ongoing violence against the Arakan Muslims, also known as Rohingya Muslims, in the Arakan province of Myanmar and raised public awareness of this massacre. It could be said that thanks to his meticulous work and success in conveying their plight, the Turkish TV stations and papers became aware of this grave ongoing incident. The Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) has also contributed to the reports on the violence against the Muslim population in Myanmar.
The report is focused on the violence in Arakan that started in June 2012, the background of the incidents and the violations of the human rights of the Arakan people. The main purpose of the report is to raise public awareness of the ongoing violence in the region, disseminate information for the international community and take measures to prevent violence. It remains uncertain why the Myanmar government, which is trying to maintain control of the population in this region, pursues a policy of brutality against Muslims.
There are different stories suggesting that the Britons brought the Arakans to the region in colonial times because they needed labor; however, the Arakans had lived together in harmony with the Buddhists for many years despite the fact that they are now being discriminated against. The Myanmar government must be particularly disturbed by the demography in the region, which is composed of Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists. Because it promotes Buddhist nationalism, the government does nothing to the Rakhines. It is evident that Muslims are being targeted by the government, which provokes the Rakhine Buddhists to act against Muslims.
According to the Myanmar legislation on citizenship, the Arakan Muslims are considered indigenous people; under the same legislation, they are denied positions in state institutions and they are forced to work for free in jobs identified by the government. Such treatment clearly takes a toll on the living conditions of the Arakan Muslims in the country. Sadly, it could be said that the international community has remained indifferent to the violence against the Arakan Muslims. The Muslims have to leave their homes due to geographical difficulties; the Buddhists immediately fill the spots they leave, expanding the sphere of their authority. Bangladesh also denies refugee status to 500,000 Arakan Muslims along its borders; this further exacerbates the overall situation. Many of the Muslims who use boats to get to the Bangladeshi shores are lost in the Indian Ocean; many women are raped in this state of turmoil. These things all depict the ongoing tragedy in Myanmar.
It is not wrong to say that the Myanmar government is pursuing a policy similar to the hawkish policy and stance that have been held for many years by Israel vis-à-vis the Muslim population in Gaza. The housing projects carried out by Israel in Jerusalem are comparable to the Myanmar government’s efforts to force the Muslims in the country to leave their land. Likewise, the Arakan Muslims have fled to seek refuge in other countries. Reports indicate that the number of displaced Arakans is around 2 million. It is further unfortunate for the Muslims in the country that the start of these incidents can be traced back to the coup in 1962 and that they have been forced to live in a small enclave. Communist Gen. Ne Win staged this military coup; in the aftermath of the coup, hundreds of Islamic scholars were executed and all mosques in Arakan were either demolished or closed down.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has been occupied with the matter since June. The ministry has been in contact with the Burmese Embassy and the relevant institutions. Most recently, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met with Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to discuss the matter. Turkey has also made efforts to stop the bloodbath in the country. Hopefully, these efforts will work properly to stop violence against Muslims in Arakan, the Gaza of Southeast Asia.
*Emrah Usta is an İstanbul-based political analyst and op-ed writer. He can be followed on Twitter @Emr_Usta