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War of lexicon in Arakan State

The Arakan National Party (ANP) has condemned the Burmese government’s suggestion that the ethnic Rohingya be referred to as the “Muslim community in Arakan State”.

The ANP announcement follows a motion proposed by the Burmese delegation at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last Friday that the terminology be adopted by the Council in a bid to avoid using either of the controversial terms “Rohingya” or “Bengali”.

The ANP released a statement on Tuesday asserting that any reference to a “Muslim community in Arakan State” would be a “desecration of the union sprit” in Burma. The Arakanese nationalists said they would continue to refer to the group as “Bengalis”.

“We will definitely continue to refer to them as Bengalis,” said ANP General-Secretary Tun Aung Kyaw.

“The proposal by the Myanmar [Burmese] delegation at the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 17 June in regard to the Bengalis suggested referring to them as the ‘Muslim community in Arakan state’.

“This is a desecration of the union spirit and an attempt to pin the blame on Arakanese people, implying that the Bengalis are only our issue when it is actually the whole country’s concern,” he said.

“Referring to them as the ‘Muslim community in Arakan State’ diminishes the original terminology that we, in Arakan State, employ to describe them, and creates an illusion that they are authentic.”


The ANP statement went on to note that the first ever census conducted by the British after the First Anglo-Burman War (1824-26) referred to the group as ‘Chittagonian’, and that more recent censuses conducted by the Burmese Socialist Programme Party in 1973 and 1984, as well as the 2014 census, referred to the groups ethnicity as “Bengali”.

Arakanese Buddhist Than Tun, an influential figure in Arakan State capital Sittwe, said, “People all over Arakan State wholeheartedly support the ANP’s statement. Referring to the Bengalis who came from Bangladesh as a ‘Muslim community in Arakan State’ may imply that they were Muslim natives of this region. That is a direct threat against the Arakanese people.

“The majority of the population in Arakan State is Buddhist – there are no indigenous Muslims in Arakan State.”

Arakan, or Rakhine State, is Burma’s westernmost region, and borders Bangladesh. According to the 2014 census, the state has a population of just over three million; however the Rohingya community, thought to number around a million, was largely disenfranchised from that count.

Tensions between the Muslim and Buddhist communities boiled over in 2012 into mob violence. At least 78 people were killed in communal riots, and some 140,000 were displaced from their homes.


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