The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has announced that it is working on a treatise based on documents and chronologies written by historians throughout the ages to prove that the Rohingya community is not an indigenous group of Burma.
In a Burmese-language statement posted on its Facebook page on Monday, the ministry claimed that there was no mention of the word “Rohingya” in historical documents dating back to the British colonial era or even the pre-colonial period.
It said the term was first used in a report on 20 November 1948 by a “Bengali MP” named Abdul Gafar, writing to the minister of home affairs, in which he apparently fabricated a story about a shipwreck.
The use of the word “Rohingya” remains one of the most volatile issues defining communal tensions in Arakan State, with Burmese government officials and embassies demanding that the term never be employed in diplomatic or official business dialogue. Even Burma’s democratic leader and former human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi avoids using the term. The Burmese government and population at large insist that the ethnic community in question are “Bengalis” who migrated from Bangladesh.
The ministry’s statement went on to say that the chairman of the Arakan State Advisory Commission, Kofi Annan, had “clearly stated ‘there was no violence, genocide, and absolutely no Rohingya’,” when speaking to reporters on 6 December during his trip to Arakan State.
DVB has no record of the former UN secretary-general making any such comment.
The ministry further claimed that domestic and overseas elements have been pushing their “Rohingya agenda” with the intention of damaging Burma’s image and reputation on the world stage, and creating instability in the country.
Northern Arakan State has been the subject of intense international scrutiny in recent weeks as the Burmese army continues to round up suspected militants involved in a coordinated attack on border guard police posts on 9 October. With the government previously referring to the attack as motivated by Islamic extremism, the crackdown has targeted self-identifying Rohingya Muslims.
The ministry said that, when completed, the “thesis” proving that the word “Rohingya” never existed until recent times will be presented to the Office of Burmese President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Suu Kyi, and that — with their approval — it will ultimately be published as a book for public consumption.
For more on the disputed history of the term ‘Rohingya’, read:
Written for DVB in August 2014 by Derek Tonkin, the editor of Network Myanmar and a former British Ambassador to Thailand.
Written by journalist Carlos Sardiňa Galache for New Mandala, September 2014.