Martyrs’ Day Openly Commemorated by Thousands Nationwide
By The Irrawaddy 19 July 2016
RANGOON — Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the annual commemoration of Martyrs’ Day in Rangoon on Tuesday generated hope for restoring relationships in the war-torn country, said representatives from the country’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
“It’s a good sign for national reconciliation,” said Nyan Win, one of the party’s central executive committee members.
Min Aung Hlaing was the first army chief to join the annual Martyrs’ Day ceremony since after the student-led uprisings of 1988. Proceedings were held at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum to honor independence hero Gen Aung San and his eight colleagues, all of whom were assassinated 69 years ago on July 19.
The senior-general’s presence at the event coincides with efforts by NLD party head and national de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to coax Burma’s powerful military to cooperate within a renewed peace process; the Burmese army has been engaged in conflict with ethnic and other non-state armed groups since shortly after the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.
Aside from his appearance at the mausoleum, the army chief also visited Suu Kyi’s residence on Tuesday to join a Buddhist merit-making ceremony for the martyrs, reportedly becoming the first-ever army chief to attend an event hosted by Suu Kyi, who is the late Aung San’s daughter. Also in attendance were former parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, NLD patron Tin Oo, and the country’s vice president Myint Swe, and Cabinet members.
Tin Oo described the army chief’s appearance at Suu Kyi’s residence as “strange,” yet said it signified “a possible good sign for Burmese politics.”
Some saw Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the Martyrs’ Day ceremony as a sign that top leaders within the Burmese military are shifting away from the tendency of their predecessors to understate and even ignore Aung San’s role in history. Even though he founded the army in which they serve, military leaders have been known to downplay the importance of Martyrs’ Day, but with an Aung San Suu Kyi-led government now in power, it appears this practice has come to an end.
The Secretariat: A Piece of History
For the first time in several years, downtown Rangoon’s Secretariat building—the site of Aung San and his colleagues’ assassination—hosted an official commemorative ceremony as part of Tuesday’s proceedings. Rangoon Mayor Maung Maung Soe and executive members of the city’s development committee bowed in silence to honor the nine fallen men.
“Gen Aung San and the martyrs sacrificed many things for the sake of this country without taking anything back,” said Than Myint Aung, one of the members of the Yangon City Development Committee’s executive board and the co-founder of the civil society group Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS).
“We all are now benefiting from what they have done, and the public and our future generations need to be aware of that,” she added.
On Tuesday, thousands of people crowded the Secretariat to mark the mournful occasion. Hnin Oo Wai, a 28-year-old mother of two, was among them.
She told The Irrawaddy that she brought her children—aged eight and five—to explain the significance of the day and to teach them about the martyrs, whose work and memory she felt had been neglected for decades.
“My kids have known who Gen Aung San is and who Amay [mother] Suu is since they learned how to speak,” Hnin Oo Wai said. “But this building is one of the pieces of historical evidence which can prove that Gen Aung San is our independence hero,” she added.
As the clock approached 10:37 a.m. on Tuesday, the moment when the martyrs were gunned down, the morning’s sunny weather disappeared and the sky cracked open to release a flood of rain.
Under the downpour, visitors bowed in silence in the Secretariat’s courtyard. The activities of the city were halted for one minute as sirens blared and vehicles honked their horns to acknowledge the anniversary of the tragedy.
Official Commemorations Held Nationwide
A separate state-level Martyrs’ Day ceremony was held at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon’s Bahan Township. Joining the commemoration were State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, vice president Myint Swe, speakers of the Parliament, Cabinet members, and surviving family members of Aung San’s eight assassinated colleagues.
Thousands of visitors gathered at the mausoleum to pay their respects at the location where the martyrs are interred. Authorities demanded that the crowds queue systematically in order to enter the site, while civil society groups and members of the Red Cross Society stood by in case of an emergency.
Events were also held throughout Rangoon, at Bogyoke Aung San Museum and Bogyoke Park, where thousands more visitors showed up at the venues to participate in the proceedings.
Martyrs’ Day was commemorated in Burma’s capital of Naypyidaw and in other cities across the country’s 14 states and divisions.
In Mandalay, an official ceremony was led by Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung and other military and government officials, including representatives from the Chinese and Indian consular offices.
“This ceremony is not only to show our respect to the late martyrs, but to tell our [younger] generations about the spirit of the martyrs, and to take examples from those who worked hard for the good of the country without taking any profit or personal benefits,” the Chief Minister told reporters before the ceremony.
On the streets of Mandalay, people carrying national flags at half-mast, as well as wreaths and flower arrangements, headed toward the commemorative grounds to honor Aung San and his fallen colleagues.
“It was a touching scene to see that we can now commemorate our late leaders more freely than before. We need to keep in mind that only commemorating them today is not enough to show how much we love them,” said Hsu Ngat, well-known local author in Mandalay.
President Htin Kyaw, who was not present at the ceremony in Rangoon’s mausoleum, made offerings to monks in Naypyidaw, along with the first lady Su Su Lwin and other government senior figures, partaking in the Buddhist practice of sharing merit with those who have passed away.
(Reporting by Zarni Mann in Mandalay and Tin Htet Paing and Tun Tun in Rangoon)