Martyrs’ Day Observed on a Grand Scale

By Sanay Lin 21 July 2014

RANGOON — Burmese across the country paid tribute on Saturday to fallen independence hero Gen. Aung San and his comrades, with the government taking a greater role in commemorative activities than it has in decades.

Responding to requests by the public, state-run media played the sound of sirens at 10:37 am on Martyrs’ Day, observed annually on July 19, to commemorate the assassination of Aung San and eight of his comrades 67 years ago at 10:37 am. The state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) also broadcast a documentary about Aung San well as a speech he made about Burma’s independence struggle from the British.

In Naypyidaw, President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing showed their support by donating meals to Buddhist monks. Neither the president nor the military chief has participated in public Martyrs’ Day activities in the past.

After the 1988 popular uprising against the military regime, the government downgraded the ceremonies on Martyrs’ Day and declared that the Martyrs’ Mausoleum would be off-limits to ordinary people, fearing a public gathering at the burial site would spark more unrest. Thereafter, the only visible commemoration on July 19 was the state flag flying at half-past.

But since Thein Sein took office in 2011, some of the decades-long Martyrs’ Day traditions seem to have been resurrected. The quasi-civilian government has allowed some public tributes at the mausoleum, and in 2012 government officials attended a state-level ceremony to mark the holiday for the first time in five decades.

This year, a state-level ceremony in Rangoon was attended by Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann and House of Nationalities Speaker Khin Aung Myint.

Cars across the city could be heard honking their horns at 10:37 a.m. At the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Aung San, urged supporters to honor the martyrs by pushing for democracy.

“To me, Martyrs’ Day is not about shedding tears, but about taking a vow,” she said. “I take a vow to march toward an independent, democratic union that the fallen heroes dreamed of. The country is, at present, far from a strong democratic union. Much more remains to be done, and we are responsible for doing it.”

Despite heavy rain, thousands of people gathered at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum near the north gate of Shwedagon Pagoda, while others went to General Aung San Museum on Natmauk Street.

“In these years I always come to pay tribute,” a student from Thanlyin Technical University told The Irrawaddy at the mausoleum. “But this is the first time I have seen such a large crowd paying tribute—and with much enthusiasm, even in the rain.”

“This shows that he has never died in our minds, no matter how his history was erased in the past,” he said of Aung San.

The nine comrades who were killed by a political rival on July 19, 1947, while meeting at the minister’s office of the Secretariat building, also included Didoke U Ba Cho, U Ba Win, Thakin Mya, Mahn Ba Khaing, Mongpawng Chief Sao San Tun, U Razak, U Ohn Maung and U Razak’s bodyguard Ko Htwe.

The minister’s office in the Secretariat, one of the most historically important buildings in the country, was opened to the public for a few hours on Saturday.