Memoral

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The Stupa memorial site is dedicated to the victims of Democratic Kampuchea during the Pol Pot regime from 1975-1979. These national and local memorials were built during the decade immediately following the 1979 toppling of the Pol Pot regime.

Many national and local memorials were constructed throughout Cambodia in the early 1980s. Local communities have provided the impetus, labor, and funding for such projects. Each stupa displays a large number of human remains. The memorial stupa is also supported by the local people, who believe that the sites should be maintained for the education of others and for the purpose of showing respect for the dead. Individual merit making is also a motivating factor in Cambodia's Buddhist culture. Tourism, both domestic and international, has also had an effect on the upkeep of some local memorials. Some communities receive donations from visitors and are thereby able to upgrade these memorials (Rachel 2002:284)

Apart from those memorials, the memorial site at Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is located in the semi-rural outskirts about fifteen kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh. The memorial was built as at the national level. There is a stupa at the fields which contains more than 8,000 skulls recovered from the graves and it serves as a tribute and a reminder of the atrocities that took place there.

The Genocidal Choeung Ek Center features a large and important Memorial Stupa.  The site was originally a Chinese graveyard but it operated from 1978 to the end of 1977 as a killing site and burial ground for thousands of victims. Most of those victims were transported from the secret S-21 prison and then killed and buried in mass graves at Choeung Ek

Liberation of the country from Khmer Rouge rule came on January 7th, 1979.  The killing fields at CE were discovered at that time. It finally became clear that Choeung Ek was a major site of recent mass violence perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. There were further physical examinations and documentations before the site was initiated.                                                                                                                                                                          

A large scale construction project commenced in early 1988, when the government ordered ministerial and municipal authorities to construct the memorial stupa.

Then, in 1989, the skeletal remains housed in the wooden memorial were relocated to a sealed glass display of the large new concrete Memorial Stupa. 

Symbolism of the Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa

In Buddhist cultures a stupa is a sacred structure that contains the remains of the deceased, especially the remains of greatly revered individuals. The construction of stupa is a significant activity that produces merit for the living and encourages the remembrance of the dead.

Based on these principles, the Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek was designed to serve as a lasting reminder of the Khmer Rouge period and the terror that these victims went through. It also serves as a memorial where Buddhist funeral rites can be performed to allow the spirits of the deceased a more peaceful passage to the afterlife.

The Memorial charnel house under construction (1988)

 

In 1988, architect Lim Ourk was employed to design the Memorial stupa for Choeung Ek. He drew three possible designs for the site, inspired by the sublime architectural forms of the Royal Palace of Cambodia in Phnom Penh (Lim Ourk, pers. comm. 2000). His three designs varied in height, roof structure and degree of carved detailing. The 62 meter height, most decorative stupa design was chosen by the municipal committee.  

In 1988, architect Lim Ourk was employed to design the Memorial stupa for Choeung Ek. He drew three possible designs for the site, inspired by the sublime architectural forms of the Royal Palace of Cambodia in Phnom Penh (Lim Ourk, pers. comm. 2000). His three designs varied in height, roof structure and degree of carved detailing. The 62 meter height, most decorative stupa design was chosen by the municipal committee.

The Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa is an inescapably postmodern monument. Its forms are transformed under a thoroughly late-twentieth century dilemma: how to memorialize genocide. It draws on the architecture of Buddhist temple pavilions features include redented walls, four projecting porches with tall doorways which lead into a square central area, and roof tiers ascending to the roof superstructure. Its superstructure is especially reminiscent of the pavilions of the Cambodian Royal Palace. Because the Royal Palace remains a preeminent space of scriptural learning and governance, the architectural reference to these forms designates Choeung Ek as a place of Buddhist and Khmer cultural significance.                   

Five stages in the middle section of the uppermost roof portion of Choeung Ek symbolize the five rings of subsidiary mountains around Meru, the sacred mountain of Buddhist cosmology. In accordance with this cosmological composition, the central pillar which emerges from the Memorial’s roof is the axis mundi, the “world mountain” or “pivot of the universe” evident in the earliest stupa structures (Fisher 1993: 31). The monument’s fine uppermost spire is ringed with two sets of seven discs which may be abstracted lotus forms or umbrellas — the “honorific and auspicious emblems” associated with monks and royalty in Buddhist cultures (Fisher 1993: 31). Elongated “sky-tassels” on the roof gables ward off unsavory spirits that fall from the sky, while giant naga snakes of ancient Khmer mythology guard the lower four corners of the roof structure. The pale stone of the lower half of the monument is also highly symbolic, white being representative of death, decay and impermanence in Khmer Buddhism.

 

 

The Memorial Stupa contains 8,985 skulls

 

The Memorial charnel house after construction (1989)

 

 

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