Hello.. I'm Greta Van Susteren..
and welcome to...
a special edition..
of Plugged In.
We recently were in Cambodia...
once ravaged by war.
But when we were there...
that it is still a nation..
its violent past.
The pain inflicted on..
the Cambodian people ...
during the Khmer Rouge era...
of the mid to late 1970s.
Youk Chang is one survivor..
who is still trying...
to find a way...
to move forward with his life.
Here is part one...
of my interview...
with Mr. Chang.
Greta/Youk Chhang - (script, “part 1”)
GVS: Nice to see you sir
YC: Thank you
GVS: Where were you born?
YC: Here in Phnom Penh City
GVS: In what year?
YC: 1961, but according to my mother, I was born on the on the year of the OX.
GVS: The year of the OX?
YC: yes, I was born in the morning so destined to be a hard working person and likely to prosper when I get older.
GVS: Turning back to 1975. Where was the first time you heard the term, Khmer Rouge?
YC: I heard of it a little bit before 75. Because during the war, Vietnam war, that I was in High School already. Usually I would have been asked by the teacher to protest on the street to support higher salary for the teachers. So, we heard the word Viet Cong. Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge, you know, uh, a little bit but I had no idea what was going on, so I knew a little about it.
GVS: So when was the first time that you realized that the Khmer Rouge was going to come in to Phnom Penh and essentially throw everybody out?
YC: I actually looked back and tried to find the dates. So, with an article printed In the NY Times back in 1975, it was on the 16th of April. 1975, yes.
GVS: What happened on the 16th of April 1975?
YC: That’s because I was home alone. All my mother, my sister, my brother and my cousins relocated to other locations near the river for better protection.
GVS: they knew there was a problem?
GVS: Let me back up than, what provoked the need for protection, something must have happened that they knew they needed protection?
YC: One of my sisters had a baby who was six days old. There was a real need for better protection. Cause one of my sisters got married and I remember the baby was six days old.
So, I believe about 2 km from the city, so usually where the shell, the rocket dropped at night.
GVS: Why didn’t they take you when they left?
YC: that’s my question too? It was my question until 20 years later.
GVS: And, let me jump ahead. What did you learn 20 years later?
YC: ………….There was not clear answer from my mom. So, I didn’t push forward. Now she is 93 years old. You know she, need, she forgave all those people who did bad things to us to our family. And, she, I just don’t want to ask her in detail.
GVS: So in April of 1975 you’re 14 years old. You’re in Phnom Penh alone, are you in school at that time ?
YC: I was home, I saw a couple of Khmer Rouge came to my house and I can tell they’re Khmer Rouge because of their smell.
GVS: Smell, like what’s the smell?
YC: They smell like Buffalo Dung, you know. Cause they come from the country side. I am from a city boy. So, I can smell them. I said, this is not my people. They looked very rough and they told me to leave home which I did.
GVS: They told you to leave home?
YC: yes, Yes,
GVS: What did they say? Get out?
YC: I don’t remember exactly but you know, with guns and bayonets than I have to, actually the entire street was empty. I was the only one, the last one to leave home, because I was thinking my mom would return. So I kept waiting, and waiting and waiting. And suddenly, a couple of Khmer Rouge soldiers came in and just pushed me out, to which, I left.
GVS: Were people being evacuated by that point?
GVS: So, so you knew that people were getting evacuated?
YC: I didn’t know it was evacuation. I just saw people walking. And then, it was quiet, nobody talked uh. I still remember, until now, that people were so selfish. Because on the streets, I was the only young boy without family. But I turned around and signaled, asking for water and some food, everyone turned their back to me. Like, you know, you feel like, you know, you’re alone in the entire country. And, so I keep walking. The only people who actually responded to my requests were the Khmer Rouge soldiers who gave me food on the streets.
YC: I didn’t know it was an evacuation until I heard the Khmer Rouge made the announcement that everyone had to go home.
GVS: And where was home?
YC: E X A C T L Y …… I JUST LEFT HOME.. and then the Khmer Rouge said everyone must go home, return to your home village. They made the uhhh. Like a big microphone they were speaking on the streets. So I was confused, so I thought about my mother’s home village, which is about 78 kilometers from here. That’s the first thought that came to my mind. So then, I decided to ask the Khmer Rouge, how do I get there? They kept pointing to the streets, left, right, left right. So, it took me over a week to get to the home village by foot.
YC: I go the province about 78 kilometers from the city.
GVS: How did you get there on your bicycle?
YC: I know this village because I visit my grandparents there in 1968, so I remember the name. Bicycle, you can’t ride the bicycle, you have to walk with the bicycle. You know, like two million people on the street. You cannot even move. It takes you like a day to make like two hundred meters of walking, because, it’s crowded.
YC: So I remember the name of the village and I kept asking the Khmer Rouge where is the city? And he said this way, so I kept walking.
GVS: So how long did it take you to get there from the time you left home.?
YC: From the city?
YC: Several weeks.
GVS: I asked the Khmer Rouge, they gave me, they call it, Sugar Plum Cake. Which they make for soldiers, it’s huge like this. And, than like a sponge cake you can eat for days. You can eat a little bit at a time, you can eat that one for a week.
GVS: So during the time you were with the Khmer Rouge and the time you left home, did you see any violence that they were doing to the Cambodians at all?
YC: You know, I didn’t see, may be others may have seen it but I didn’t see it. I only see that they were on a Jeep with microphones. I saw them walking with their guns. I saw them directing people in the streets. I did see some dead bodies when I tried to look for water, off the road. When I get off the road, and tried to look for water. I saw some dead bodies. I saw, you know, the number of people getting smaller as you get out of the city. Because people get off to their direction. So, by the time I reached the mountains, only a few people were on the streets. The rest was gone.
GVS: Up until that time, had you ever heard of the name Pol Pot?
GVS: Not at all ?
YC: .. .mmm hm.
GVS: So you go off to this village. How long were you in that village before you move on?
YC: when I arrived at the village, I got lost at the intersection. This is very funny. I finally found the market. Which is, I remember, there was a small road from the market to my grandparents’ house. But when I found the market, the market was empty. Except the Khmer Rouge soldiers everywhere…………..
………. I couldn’t find my grandparents’ house. I remembered, there was a small pond in front of it. I couldn’t see it. So I kept going back and forth, back and forth, suddenly an old lady came out asking me where I was the son of my mother, because I look like my mother. She knew my mother, I said yes and suddenly she was crying. Because I think she knew what was going on. She was crying so hard. She pulled me to my… she lived next to my grandparents’ house, where I found the pond. But the pond is this big now. Before I used to swim in the pond, you know. So, I was excited but then she was crying. She told me not to say anything. She told me not to mention my mother’s name. A lot of things going on, I was like, what’s wrong with these people. And then I remembered, she cooked sweet and sour soup, beef for me and she said this is very special, try to eat it because we only have beef every two weeks. We’re giving by the “Unka”. This is the first time I heard the word “unka”.
………….. So I stayed there for…. ..and then, they put me to work.
GVS: Who’s they who put you to work?
YC: The village chief came and told the two girls and the old lady that I had to go to work the next day.
GVS: So that was the day after you arrived?
GVS: And what kind of work did you have to do?
YC: the sent me to dig the pond near by the village. And then they changed my work to plow the rice field. And then, I also learned how to ride the ox cart. I also learned how to pull the potato from the field. Different job.
GVS: Where you content to do that or unhappy to do that?
YC: it’s very heavy for me. To carry dirt is very hard. I don’t know how to carry dirt from the.. but there is always people around who knew my mom helping me out. You know, this is like where my mom was born. So, everybody know my mom’s family. The neighbor always tried to help me out. Help to carry water for me. Do something for me. Knowing that I don’t know what to do with it. I still remember a lady. Her name is Mihai. Until today, it’s always with me. Those people with me until now. One of them is called aunty Hayi. She was about thirty something and then at one point she went to catch and fish with a basket, you know. Like this, so she brought me along. I don’t know how to do, to catch the fish, so she asked me to come along.
GVS: Because you’re a city boy?
YC: I didn’t know all these things but now I learned everything then.
GVS: did there come a time when you either left the village or the Khmer Rouge were abusive to you, what happened?
YC: Well, then they did. I was arrested, I was put in prison. They tortured me, they suffered me.
GVS: When were you arrested after going to that home next to your grandparents, how soon after were you arrested?
YC: Well that’s the second part. After living there and I was reunited with my mom.
GVS: you were reunited with your mom?
YC: yes, about four or five months later. And then we were told that we’re not allowed to leave the village because my mom left the village at an early age. Therefore, she was no longer considered as part of the villagers. Therefore, they put us on a train for the second evacuation to the Thai border. This is where the, what I call it, where the horrible thing happened to me.
GVS: And what happened?
YC: there, we were separated. One story I used to tell a lot of people, already, is that we had no food to eat. You see like a flat rice field which consist of 50 square kilometers. No trees, no nothing. I always escaped from unit to see my mom. At one point, I arrived home at night just to visit her and I saw one of my sisters and she is pregnant and she had no food to eat. She is one of my favorite sisters. And so I decided to go out and steal. Actually I go out to the rice field and pick up mushroom and the rice that fall on the ground. But then, we were told that doesn’t belong to us. By doing that, I know it’s stealing. So I went out to steal it and then I succeeded. I had success the first time to feed my sister so I was very happy. I always escape from the unit and do that. But you know what, they knew that somebody did this. They were waiting for me to return for the third and the fourth time and they got me.
That was Youk Chang.
He is a survivor....
of the Khmer Rouge..
one of the worst mass killings..
of the 20th century.
Mr. Chang is working...
to document the atrocities...
while helping families...
find out ....
to their loved ones.
But documenting these horrors...
takes Chang back..
to what he himself....
torture and excruciating pain.
Here is part two of my interview..
with Youk Chang.
Greta/Youk Chhang - Part 2 (script)
GVS: So what did they do to you publically?
YC: They tortured until I was like couldn’t move.
GVS: They tortured you in what way?
YC: with the ax, they hit you.
GVS: with an ax?
YC: Ax with a hose. In the head, the body. They would also. They would also use the hose to hit your leg. It’s a warning. Don’t run, you know. They hit, don’t run. So, it’s bleeding.
GVS: and how many people were there watching?
YC: The whole village about a few hundred, I think.
GVS: How long did it go on? Did you know?
YC: I don’t know but I remember for a while. Then I was brought to and put into a prison.
GVS: From the torture?
GVS: what did they say to you while they were torturing you?
YC: Nothing, I didn’t remember they said something but I don’t’ remember.
GVS: So then you get taken to prison. So then, what is prison like?
YC: You know where is prison for the village, for the commune, for the district, for the Central. That’s different kind of prison. This was called the village prison. It’s an old house that they create like a shell. You know they create it from the existing old house. You sleep on the floors. There is no walls. You’re lucky if you’re put on the first floor because you’re protected by the roof. If you sleep on the ground, then when it rains, than you’re hit by the rains or the rat or snakes. So that’ where I was put it in on the first floor.
GVS: How long were you in prison?
YC: I think several weeks.
GVS: And then what?
YC: Every night, this is the most boring thing, every night they would call all the prisoners for a meeting. Midnight time. Da time, they put you in the chain and you worked. Then nighttime after a little of food, then you’re called for a meeting.
It’s called a livelihood meeting. Everyone has to confess that you did something wrong. Or you think something is wrong and ask for forgiveness. So, every night everyone comes up with a lie. Because even though you don’t, you have to say like, uh.. I think about my sister and that’s a crime. So, please forgive me. Then people say okay, go back to your cell. So everyone has to do that every night.
At one point, I run out of lie. So I asked one of the next .. when a prisoner asked me to come up with a lie, you know. So I used to think about baguettes, you know, fried chicken, or you called pate….. I loved to eat the food in the city. Something related to the city is a crime. So I come up with like Bbguettes, sardines, Coca cola, Pepsi, Those are crimes. And you think of those things. It’s a crime. So I list of those things that I used to have in the city. And they are happy that confess uh.
At one point, I run out of lies. So this guy, he is much older than me. I think he is about…. A little bit 30. So he was an old guy. I said, can you help me with a lie because I run out of lies. He was in front of me so, I whisper to him. Then, he stood up. He actually told the prison chief to release me. He said you know this is a good boy, he works hard. He is honest and he ran out of lies. Would you release him?
And they did. I am here now. But you know, only later, I learned that they killed him.
GVS: So to release you they killed him?
YC: yup …. This is one of the thing that I …………..
I was looking for his family. For four years. I think he knew my mom. I think, from the same village. So he died.
GVS: Would his killing have been public? When they killed him, was that done publically?
GVS: Did you witness anything else at all?
YC: I did. In that village when they killed people, they killed publically.
GVS: They made it public?
GVS: And were they killing boys or men for girls??
YC: I witnessed a few and one of them was a couple.
GVS: For what reason?
YC: Well you know I did an investigation of their crime. I wrote about that actually. The crime was that they fell in love with each other.
GVS: Fall in love with each other? that was the crime?
YC: Because, they didn’t ask for permission.
GVS: From whom would they ask permission? It’s called “Unka”. You don’t know who. I can be a village chief. I can be ……
GVS: and you saw them get killed?
YC: Yeah….. I saw them killed
GVS: how? How did they get killed ?
YC: They usually used the hose to hit the necks.
GVS: And that was done publically?
YC: You have to watch it. They call it “People court”.
GVS: they make you watch it.
YC: you have to watch it.
GVS: So you have to come out in the village and watch somebody get killed?
YC: they had plan, you know. They would call you a day in advance and that tomorrow is a meeting. To………..
GVS: You know it’s so, I’ve read this stuff. You read these atrocities it’s breath taking. The cruelty is very …
You know why? What did they get out of this?
GVS: When did you think and I don’t mean to push these painful questions to you but what were your thoughts as you were living these existence as they were bringing people out of the village and making people witness executions and people being executed. I mean was it just that you want to survive? Were you thinking of the people who where doing this? Was there hate? I am mean did you know? Was it fear
YC: you know I went back and met some of them.
GVS: Some of the Khmer Rouge?
YC: I met with one or two who tortured me.
GVS: You met with someone who tortured you?
YC: I think 2002-2003, I went back to the village and I searched.
GVS: You found them?
YC: I found them.
GVS: and, what did you say to them?
YC: Well, they didn’t remember me, they didn’t know who I am.
YC. Well this time I returned as the Youk Chhang. WC-10 and I have trained in the U.S. and I understand Human Rights. I went to school. So, I returned as a different person. So I had to separate personal and professional. And I was not in a position to interview because I am holding the evidence for the court. Cause I fought for the court. So, my staff conducted the meeting. So, I listened.
YC; So my staff conducted the interview and I listened to them. You know it bothered me because they were so truthful with my staff. All of them told my staff exactly what happened.
GVS: Did they say why they did it ?
YC: We’re not in a position to ask people to be self-incriminating and violate their right because we’re doing this to present to the court. Therefore, we didn’t ask why you did this, why you killed people. Those questions were omitted from the questionnaire.
GVS: But they say they did it. They admit it.
YC: the answer they provided to my staff didn’t lead to the question why did you kill people? We didn’t ask like that? But the entire four-hour interview, I was very upset because they were so sincere to my staff.
And then the other guy asked me if they want to drink coconut juice?
YC: they apologize by doing that.
I didn’t accept it.
But they did their part by doing that, you know. They apologized. Because they are much older than me. But older doing things like that to a younger, in our culture, is seeking forgiveness. But, I didn’t accept it. I wanted them to say it. But how can they say they don’t remember me?
You know, what’s the point? .. so we were apart and they left.
GVS: you have now done a lot of research on the genocide. What has surprised you the most on the research?
YC: you know emotionally, I’ve discovered that a lot of happy time that we had, also were during the Khmer Rouge time?
GVS: there were happy times during the Khmer Rouge? What…. So how can there be…..?
YC: I didn’t know it was a happy time then until now that I am much older. I have four childhood friends, they were Khmer Rouge kids. I didn’t know we were so happy when we met back then.
YC: So, I visit them quite often. Actually one of them married to a commune chief. So, I decided to build a road in that village because the village has no road, from the village to the rice field so I build a road. It’s called reconciliation road. Because in that village, so much has happened. So many to hate and so many to love.
GVS: What’s it like now? I mean, today in Cambodia you’ve got (inaudible) on the Khmer Rouge. You’ve got children of those who were victims of the torture and who survived the torture. What’s it like now for everybody?
YC: Well you know, we have to understand our history. So that we can control the future. But this is the most difficult history, conflict history and that’s why I can understand how complexed it is. I’ve been through it, lived through it. And I lived through it for decades so I can understand. So that’s why I think that understand is the most significant so that to rebuild this society and everyone has to understand and that’s why I focus so much on education after the tribunals. You know it always helps to bring us closer through an understanding.
GVS: is it disgust? I mean to me is it still like among the young people, it’s a very young population here.
YC: it’s compulsory-
GVS: But what? What’s compulsory?
YC: The teaching of the Khmer Rouge history.
GVS: It’s compulsory?
GVS: So people are openly talking about the atrocities. And he genocide
YC: I think you know, it’s always easy to talk about somebody else but not your own. Like I never speak to my mom for example. I always speak about other people that I research for example. So, the teaching has been compulsory since 2009. It’s been 10 years now, we need a text book, work with the government. From the seven through twelve, we have to study the Khmer Rouge history. Also, foundation year of every University. The quality is still low but it’s there in a scientific way not in an emotional or political way so that people can search for their own answer.
YC: each of the mention of the Khmer Rouge in any part of the country represent a similar form of truth commission you have heard of. People discuss among smaller group, bigger group, family, bagoda, churches, Mosques, government officials, different forms. And everyone has their own determination. They have their own understanding .. that for me is very healing.
GVS: Thank you so much for talking to me. Thank you .
YC: Thank you.
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