Nation Commemorates Martyrs’ Day

By The Irrawaddy 19 July 2017

YANGON — At 10:37 a.m. on Wednesday, sirens suddenly wailed. Many of the cars on the roads of Yangon came to a halt. Drivers blared their horns for one full minute. People walking on the pavement stood still.

The moment was synchronized across the country as Myanmar mourned the loss of her leaders 70 years ago today.

Members of the public—from the country’s President U Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to students to street vendors—commemorated the death of the country’s independence leader Gen Aung San, alongside seven members of his cabinet and a bodyguard, all assassinated by a political rival in Yangon’s Secretariat on July 19, 1947. Since then, the date has been designated a national day of mourning known as Martyrs’ Day, annually memorialized as a state-level event.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Gen Aung San, attended the state memorial ceremony on Wednesday morning held at the red mausoleum where her father and his colleagues are interred. She was joined by other state dignitaries, including the country’s vice president U Myint Swe, the Speakers for the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament, military chief Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and descendants of the martyrs.

When the sirens went off at 10:37 a.m., people gathering at the Gen Aung San statue in Yangon observed one minute of silence before heading to the nearby Gen Aung San Museum, the martyrs’ mausoleum, and then to the Secretariat building downtown, which is open to the public on this day.

In a commemoration ceremony held by Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) on Wednesday, party chairman U Nyan Win said, “When we talk about national reconciliation today, it means to take power by peaceful means, not with guns. The martyrs fell as the result of someone who took this differently. We all should take it as a lesson.”

Meanwhile, across Myanmar, government officials led by chief ministers commemorated the day at martyrs’ monuments in their respective cities and towns with hundreds of people in attendance.

In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung led the memorial event at Mandalar Thiri Stadium, located in Chanmyathazi Township. Hundreds of locals, students and representatives of non-governmental and civil society organizations attended. At Gen Aung San Square in Pyigyi Tagon Township, another ceremony organized by local activists was held separately.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also commemorated the occasion at her lakeside villa in Yangon by making offerings to Buddhist monks, as she did last year. The ceremony came under the spotlight in 2016 as Myanmar Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was seen in attendance for the first time. It prompted speculation that warmer relations were in store between the army chief and the State Counselor, who has been coaxing the powerful military to further engage in the government-led peace process and to consider amendments to the 2008 military-drafted Constitution.

But the senior general was not present at this year’s event held at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s villa. He was last seen at the state ceremony at the mausoleum earlier in the morning.

Very recently, relations between the NLD government and the army turned sour after the Yangon chief minister made public remarks concerning the position of the military chief in the national leadership hierarchy. The army took the comments as an insult and the chief minister issued an apology to him.

Additional reporting by Zarni Mann from Mandalay and Htun Htun from Yangon.