Brief History of Arakan

Mrauk-U Palace, Arakan Palace

Arakan State has been a sovereign state for more than thousand years with four dynastic eras: Dhanyawaddy (CE 370/425 – 6th century, and the original home of the Mahamuni shrine), Vesali (CE 6th – 10th century), Laymro (11th – 15th century) and Mrauk-U (CE 1430 – 1784). It lost its sovereignty with the 1784 Burman invasion. Since then, Arakan has been a part of Burma (Myanmar). Separated from Burma’s other ethnic nationalities by the Arakan Roma mountain ranges, the Arakanese people have customs and a language of their own.

At its peak the Arakan kingdom took tributes from as far away as Murshidabad, India, in the west, and the Mon capital of Pegu, in the east as well as much of southern Burma. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was also among the first kingdoms in the region to use currency and that it boasted a flourishing trade relationship with Portuguese, Dutch, Persian and other trading nations.


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The Colonisation of Arakan

For decades Arakan had been a buffer zone between Burma and the great expanse of territory occupied by the East India Trading Company. However, during the 1820’s tensions grew amid border disputes between the two empires. The Burman Kunbaung Dynasty had enjoyed great military success fighting inferior armies (mainly to the east) and somewhat naively believed it had one of the most powerful military forces on Earth. When the British requested permission to start trading in Burma, the latter’s leaders scoffed at the proposal.

The Arakanese in exile, however, were fully aware of the might of the modern British Empire and aided its occupation of Arakan in 1824. Hoping to restore the sovereignty of their once prosperous kingdom, Arakanese elders signed an agreement with the British Governor of Chittagong, outlining the terms of their joint operation to drive the Burmese forces out of Arakan. Under the treaty, Arakanese commanders would lead an invasion funded by the British. Upon successful completion of the invasion, the British were to be reimbursed double the cost of the operations, and sovereignty was to be handed back to the Arakanese.

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Socio-economic conditions of Arakan

Burma is the second poorest country in Asia after Afghanistan, Arakan is the second poorest state of Burma (43.5 % of the Arakanese are poor)

Burma is recognized as one of the world's least developed countries (LDC) since 1987 . It ranks 149 out of 187 on the UNDP Human Development Index and is Asia’s second most underdeveloped country, characterised by extreme poverty and lack of development. UNDP figures show that in 2010, 43.5% of Arakan State’s inhabitants lived below the poverty line. This was increase of more than 5% since 2005, and placed Arakan behind Chin State as the poorest state. Out the total of 14 Burmese states, Arakan is the “worst,” according to several development (see Table 1).

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Conflict and Violence in Arakan

Most people, particularly in the international community, think that the large-scale violence that happened in Arakan on June 8, 2012 is due to the rape and murder of Thida Htway who was raped and murdered by 3 Bengali youths in Kyauknimaw Village, Rambray Township on May 28, 2012, and the subsequent retaliatory murder case in Taung Goke where 10 Bengali Muslims were killed by a group of people on June 3, 2012.

The rape and murder of Thida Htway sparked the cycle of violence that sub-sequentially spiraled out of control, but it was not the root cause. It was one of many sparks. There are many rapes of Buddhist women and girls, mainly in the Muslim dominated townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathaydaung. In these townships, and others with large Muslim populations, the Rakhine Buddhist continually complain that the Bengalis steal their property, their cattle and crops, and harass, attack and sometimes kill the Buddhist, and other non-Muslims. And, disturbingly the Bengalis seem to even find justification, for doing those things usually considered immoral, wrong, and even criminal - by way of their holy book - the Quran - which does, in several sections, give Muslims the right to anything that an infidel (non-Muslim) has, including his property, his possessions, and even his wife.

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Consequences of violence in Arakan

As consequences of the 2012 June and October Violence in Arakan, both Bengalis and local Arakanese (Rakhine) have lost lives, property and that means to make their livelihoods. Many people have had their homes and villages destroyed or burned down, resulting in a huge number of refugees. Local businesses that supply the farmers, the fishermen, and the local needs are not still restored to normal due to looting or destruction, difficulty getting new supplies, and/or loss of employees. And, many of these refugees would like to return to their villages and towns, but they can’t because of deep fears for the lives and safety of themselves and their families.

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