Since late August, more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims, about two-thirds of the population that lived in Myanmar in 2016, have fled to Bangladesh, driven out by the military’s systematic campaign of massacre, rape and arson in Rakhine.
In a report released in October, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Myanmar’s security forces had worked to “effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.”
“The Rohingya are finished in our country,” said Mr. Kyaw Min, who lives in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar. “Soon we will all be dead or gone.”
The United Nations report also said that the crackdown in Rakhine had “targeted teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”
“We are people with our own history and traditions,” said U Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya lawyer and former political prisoner, whose father served as a court clerk in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine.
“How can they pretend we are nothing?” he asked.
Speaking over the phone, Mr. Kyaw Hla Aung, who has been jailed repeatedly for his activism and is now interned in a Sittwe camp, said his family did not have enough food because officials have prevented full distribution of international aid.
Myanmar’s sudden amnesia about the Rohingya is as bold as it is systematic. Five years ago, Sittwe, nestled in an estuary in the Bay of Bengal, was a mixed city, divided between an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Walking Sittwe’s crowded bazaar in 2009, I saw Rohingya fishermen selling seafood to Rakhine women. Rohingya professionals practiced law and medicine. The main street in town was dominated by the Jama mosque, an Arabesque confection built in the mid-19th century. The imam spoke proudly of Sittwe’s multicultural heritage.
But since sectarian riots in 2012, which resulted in a disproportionate number of Rohingya casualties, the city has been mostly cleared of Muslims. Across central Rakhine, about 120,000 Rohingya, even those who had citizenship, have been interned in camps, stripped of their livelihoods and prevented from accessing proper schools or health care.