Like other Cambodians, some of my family members died from the killing, starvation, forced labor and torture under the Khmer Rouge regime. Most of those who have survived the regime do not wish to recall such painful memories nor do they try to remember in order to avoid continues emotional suffering. Therefore, the story of the genocide that happened between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia has faded gradually away from people’s mind, like smoke being blown away by the wind. Indeed, we, Cambodians, don’t want such a tragic and painful event to ever happen again in our motherland. That is why, right now, in order for the next generations to know our history so that it won’t disappear with the passage of time, it is important to reconcile the victims with the view of mending their fragile memories and emotional suffering.
“Left 3 Days” is a keyword to recall some memories during my childhood at that time; particularly on 17 April 1975 when Khmer Rouge troops took control and occupied the capital city ‘Phnom Penh’. On that day the ear splitting gunfire shots could be heard for miles around the city. For every shot fired, a shiver would run down my spine. The soldiers clad in black – most were very young – ordered all residents to leave their homes for three days, even patients had to leave the hospitals without any clear information. My family hide in our house over a night, hoping the situation may change for the better. However, to our dismay, the capital city that was once so lively and rich with life became a ghost town.
As ordered, everyone was evicted out of the capital city. The only living human beings left were the Khmer Rouge troops that kept searching for any people who remained, they went from house to house. Due to the worsening situation, my father decided to leave Phnom Penh the next day. My parents and other family members left the city carrying heavy and overburdening belongings.
We headed out of the city, along the National Road “3”, walking to Angkor Chey district in Kampot province, my father’s hometown.
Crowds of the city residents walked from dusk till dawn. Some would wander around with no clear destination in mind. If one of them was too tired, they were not able to rest, because the Khmer Rouge troops were chasing behind them and forcing them to continue onward. Whenever night fell, people would rest by the roadside. Many dead bodies lay on both sides of the road and corpses would float upward in ponds, lakes and water canals. Due to the severe drought and corpses floating in what little water sources were left, finding drinking water was extremely difficult.
Words alone cannot describe the horror and pain inflicted on each and every family. What has been described is just a fraction of the events which occurred and a glimpse into the primary plan of the Khmer Rouge to evict the citizens from Phnom Penh to rural areas.
I wish to dedicate this work as a memorial to my respectful father, grandfather and three uncles as well as all the victims who died during the heinous Khmer Rouge regime”.
Phnom Penh, 05 December 2014
MAK Remissa is regarded as one of the most successful Khmer photographers of his generation. He credits his first and third place awards in the 1997 National Photojournalism competition, held by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and chaired by Phillip Jones Griffiths, as a major catalyst in his career.
Currently working as a photojournalist for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), his work is often seen on the international news wires. His 2005 fine art photography exhibition, titled after a traditional Khmer proverb: “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes, the ant eats the fish”, was shown in Phnom Penh galleries like Popil and Java, as well as at the Angkor Photo Festival.
Born in 1970, Remissa and his family were moved from Phnom Penh five years later by the Khmer Rouge and relocated in Takeo province. In 1995, he graduated in Fine Art and Photography at the Royal Fine Arts School in Phnom Penh, and his work soon appeared in numerous publications such as Cambodge Soir and the Phnom Penh Post. He has also worked for Reuters and other organisations. Remissa has exhibited his fine art photography in Cambodia, France, Canada and the US, and after spending a few years in Canada, he has returned to live and record events in the country of his birth.
Seven pieces of Remissa’s Fish and Ants work was recently made part of the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection. Mak Remissa has been a member of Asia Motion since 2010