International delegates at a seminar on the history of Rakhine State were told on Saturday that there are no Rohingya people in Myanmar - and that these people were actually Bengali. The seminar took place at Mahidol University.
“The seminar was held with three objectives – introduction of Rakhine history to the international community, to correct a continued description of Rohingya by international media that is not recognised by successive Myanmar governments, and to bring reliable references of Rakhine history from international historians,” said Kyaw Thaung, one of the seminar’s organisers.
Dr Jet Pilder, an expert on Asian Studies from France, explained the origins of the Arakan kingdom, Bodaw Phaya’s occupation of Arakan and the political, religious and economic history of the area from 1785 to 1825: Members of Rakhine’s elite were sent into exile between 1785 and 1795 and the administration was jointly controlled by Myanmar and Rakhine. Increased tax was collected and forced labour was seen from 1795 to 1810, when Myanmar people also began to settle in the area. A rebellion against the rule of Myanmar’s king from 1787 to 1815 saw Rakhine people head to southern Bengala.
Similarly, Professor Stephen van Galen of Germany’s Leiden University briefed on relations between the Rakhine region and Bengal from the 15th century to 18th century.
After 1638, Rakhine’s control over southeastern Bengal waned due to a shortfall in tax revenue. And Rakhine’s economy stagnated after Chittagong was lost in 1666, he added.
He also cited another reason for the impact on Rakhine’s economy – the withdrawal of Dutch businessmen.
Meanwhile, history Professor Aye Chan of Kanda University of International Studies, Japan, traced the increased cross-border settlement from 1826 to 1975 as Chittagong natives moved in to become the majority in Maungdaw and Buthedaung townships. In his talk “From Rakhine cross-border settlement to ethnic violence”, Chan said the Bengali Muslim population increased from 58,255 in 1871 to 178,647 in 1911, when they represented 94 per cent of the population in Maungdaw and 84 per cent in Buthedaun. He also explained Muslim rebels’ destruction of Rakhine villages.
“What I can say exactly is that those who call themselves Rohingyas are really Bengalis. This can be seen in the records of the colonial era. Rakhine State has no Rohingyas,” Chan said.
Pilder, when asked about the annexation of Rakhine State in the Bagan period, replied that there was no evidence it ever occurred.
“I never come across the term ‘Rohingya’. But Muslims settlers arrived in Mrauk-U around 17th century. They did not name themselves as Rohingyas then. Other cultures also reached Mrauk-U in that century. The first Dutchman arrived in Mrauk-U in 1608.”
Chan also responded to a question about the term “Rohingya”.
“I have talked about this before. A man named Abdul Gaffa from Buthedaung, Rakhine State, created [the term Rohingya] in 1951. Actually he made it up from the name ‘Roshang’ or ‘Rohan’. It’s a Bengali word meaning Rakhine people.”
When a Bengali activist Htay Lwin Oo asked about Rohingya and the Rakhine State, Chan said the term “Rohan” does not mean illegal immigrants.”
Professors of history, diplomats, reporters and journalists attended the seminar, which also attracted more than 150 Rakhine Buddhist monks and students studying in Thailand.