Martyrs Day Commemorated Across Burma

By Nyein Nyein 19 July 2012

For the first time in decades, people all across Burma have come out to publicly commemorate Martyrs’ Day on July 19, marking the date in 1947 when Burma’s independence leaders, most notably independence hero Gen. Aung San, were assassinated.

Many high-ranking government officials attended Martyrs’ Day ceremonies in their respective townships, a first for most. For more than 20 years, the military government looked to undermine or play down anniversaries such as Martyrs’ Day that paid respect to Aung San, the father of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burmese state media broke with tradition in broadcasting coverage of a Martyrs’ Day ceremony—attended by Suu Kyi—from the Martyrs’ Mausoleum near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. Ancestors of the nine martyrs, including Suu Kyi, as well as Vice-President Dr Sai Mauk Kham, attended the commemoration service. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), also held a ceremony at its Rangoon headquarters while the Bogyoke Aung San Museum in Rangoon remained open to the public on Thursday.

In the capital, Naypyidaw, government officials led a ceremony which included members of opposition political parties, although President Thein Sein was not among those who attended.

Min Thu, the NLD MP for Naypyidaw’s Ottarathiri Township, who attended the service alongside Sandar Min, NLD MP for the city’s Zabuthiri Township, said, “This is the first ever event of its kind that has been held in Naypyidaw since it was founded.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy shortly after the service, Min Thu said that holding the ceremony was a good step toward national reconciliation. He said there was an alms-giving ceremony but that no wreaths were laid—perhaps because there is no statue of Aung San in the capital.

In Hinthada in the Irrawaddy Delta, an estimated 3,000 people, including government officials, gathered at the local Martyrs’ Mausoleum to pay respects.

In Mandalay, several commemorative events were held across the city, as well as a Buddhist service at Kantakkone Masoeyain Monastery where several well-known writers, including Ko Lay (Innwa Gonyi), addressed the public.

In Dawei and four other townships within the southern province, ceremonies were held at which invited guests and laypersons offered alms to Buddhist monks. A member of the NLD told The Irrawaddy that such an overt public display of marking Martyrs’ Day would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago.

One week ago, an application to hold a Martyrs’ Day gathering was rejected by the authorities in Pegu. However, on Thursday morning dozens of civilians turned up at the statue of Aung San, which stands in the city center, and laid wreaths. There were no reports of harassment by security forces.

Pegu resident Nay Win said, “It was a very poignant moment—paying our respects in public before the statue of Gen. Aung San.”

He told The Irrawaddy that no such ceremony had been held in over 20 years and that even schoolchildren took part.

In Mon State capital Moulmein, around 200 youths gathered and laid wreaths outside the compound where a Bogyoke Aung San statue stands.

Moulmein NLD member Ko Ko Zaw said, “We were not permitted to go inside the compound, so we placed wreaths on the road in front of the compound, paid our respects, and left quietly.”

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