THE BRIEF HISTORY OF MYANMAR
The Mon are considered to be the first inhabitants of Myanmar possibly as early as 3,000 BC. The Mon people settled in central Myanmar and on down along the Bay of Bengal covering the eastern coast. Irrigation systems were created and contacts, both cultural and commercial were established with India. In addition to keeping in contact with India, the Mon people had contact and influence upon their Mon neighbors in Siam (current day Thailand). As with the others who followed, the Monshad gone down the Irrawaddy River to set up their establishments. Following the Mons, were the Pyu, although they arrived much later in time. They started a capital in AD 628, near modern day Prome, but in the mid-ninth century, the arrival of the Burmans absorbed the communities of the Mon and Pyu people that were in their path.
THE PAGAN ERA
In 849 Burmans found the town of Bagan on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy about 500 kilometers north of its mouth. Bagan was to be the center of the first Burmese realm about which a wealth of historical information exists. Although even before then in the Ayeyarwaddy valley realms with urban centers had existed, there are only scarce historical sources concerning those earlier realms. Before the Burmans the people of the Mon, related to the Cambodians, and before them the Tibeto-Burman people of the Pyu had founded realms in the Ayeyarwaddy valley or delta, but were in the course of time conquered by the Bagan Burmans. King Anawratha ascends the throne of the Bagan realm in 1044. In 1056 he is converted to Buddhism by a Mon monk, Shin Arahan.
A little later, in 1057, King Anawratha makes war against the Mon town of Bago (Pegu) to gain possession of holy Buddhist scripts (the Tripitaka), which the Mon King Manuha is unwilling to give up voluntarily. After a few months siege of Bago, Manuha finally surrenders. Bago is destroyed and the Tripitaka is carried off to Bagan on the backs of 32 white elephants. The Burmese army brings 30,000 captured Mons to Bagan, among them numerous craftsmen and artisans, who in the following decades not only enrich, but even determine the culture of Bagan. During that time pagodas are almost exclusively built in the Mon style. The Burmese even incorporate the script of the Mon. Mon King Manuha is presented to the main pagoda of Bagan, Shwezigon, as temple slave.
After his campaign against the Mon, King Anawratha makes successful conquests against the Shan realm of that time, which is adjacent to the Burmese realm in the North, and against the Arakan realm to the West of Bagan. After a reign of 33 years King Anawratha is killed by a wild buffalo in 1077. He is succeeded to the throne by his son Sawlu, who further extends the borders of the realm. After King Sawlu’s death in 1084 King Kyanzittha ascends the throne and further extends the realm to the South. In 1287 hordes of Mongolian horsemen under Kublai Khan bring the Bagan realm to a graceless and bloody end.
THE TAUNGU DYNASTY
After two centuries, during which the realms of the Burmans, the Shan and the Mon in the area of today’s Myanmar ceaselessly were at war with each other, King Minkyino ascends the throne of the Burmese town of Taungu in 1486. His reign initiates a resurgence of the Burmese realm.
After King Minkyino’s death in 1530 his 16-year-old son Tabengshweti becomes Taungu’s new King. Tabengshweti follows an aggressive policy aiming to resurrect the Burmese realm within the borders of the former Bagan realm.
In 1535 Tabengshweti’s troops conquer the Mon port town Bassein and in 1539 the most important Mon town of that time, Bago. Further conquest campaigns into the northern Ayeyarwaddy valley ensure Tabengshweti’s reign over an area, which roughly represents today’s Myanmar.
Tabengshweti dies in 1550. His conquests are of a less permanent nature, because at that time the Burmans have trouble with a number of powerful Shan fiefdoms to the North. Tabengshweti’s son-in-law Bayinnaung ascends the throne of Taungu and has to reconquer anew many of the towns, which his father-in-law had already conquered before, among them Bago.
In 1564 Bayinnaung (according to Siamese sources: Bhueng Noreng) lays siege to the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya, until it surrenders to the conditions of the Burmese. The Siamese King and his family are abducted to Myanmar, as well as a number of highly valued white elephants.
As Siam is not content with the role of being a tributary to the Burmese, in 1569 Bayinnaung is forced to invade Siam again, leading an army of 200,000 men. After a siege of seven months Ayutthaya is taken by force. King Bayinnaung dies in 1581. His successor, his son Nandanaung, however, cannot claim the same military talent as his father. During his 18-year reign Nandanaung loses most of the regions his father had conquered before. 15 years after the fall of Ayutthaya, in 1584, Siam once again declares its independence. Several campaigns to Siam, the last in 1592, remain unsuccessful. During the following decades the realm of the Taungu Dynasty in Myanmar disintegrates.
In 1636 the Burmans transfer their capital from Taungu to Ava in the North (close to today’s Mandalay). The realm of the Burmans continues to lose in influence. At the same time the realm of the Mon, whose capital is still at Bago, grows in strength. The Mon conquer Ava in 1752 and make it temporarily their own capital.
THE KONBAUG DYNASTY
In 1753, a local Burmese official of the small town of Shwebo, about 100 kilometers north of Ava, by the name of Alaungpaya (according to other sources: Alaungsaya) starts a revolt against the reign of the Mon in Ava. Shortly after, he succeeds to conquer Ava. Only a few years later, in 1757, King Alaungpaya conquers the Mon capital Bago.
In 1759 Alaungpaya starts a campaign against Siam. But during the siege Alaungpaya is injured and dies on the retreat to Myanmar. He is succeeded on the Burmese throne by his eldest son Naungdawgyi. In 1763 Naungdawgyi’s younger brother Hsinbyushin becomes the Burmese King.
After a siege of 14 months the Burmese army finally succeeds in 1767 to conquer the Siamese capital Ayutthaya. The town is so completely destroyed that after the retreat of the Burmese army the Siamese don’t bother to attempt restoration. After a few years of transitory confusion they turn Bangkok into their new capital.
In 1782 Alaungpaya’s fifth son, Bodawpaya becomes King of the Burmese. During his reign, which lasts until his death in 1819, the Burmese realm expands, with the conquest of Arakan, to the West. This leads to conflicts with the British Empire, which at that time is already securely established in Bangladesh and wields a strong influence over the Indian subcontinent from its base Calcutta.
THE COLONIAL TIMES
In 1824 the first Anglo-Burmese war breaks out. In 1826 peace is sealed with the contract of Yandabo. The Burmese surrender the old fiefdom Arakan and the southern province Tenasserim to the British.
After in 1852 the Burmese service arrested two British captains and released them again only after being paid ransom, the second Anglo-Burmese war breaks out. Without any particular effort the British occupy Yangon and southern Myanmar.
In 1853 Mindon Min succeeds his brother Bagan Min, who is notorious for the atrocities he committed, on the Burmese throne and modernizes the Burmese state system during his reign, which lasts until his death in 1878. In 1857 he transfers the seat of his government to Mandalay, which he has newly founded. After the death of Mindon Min in 1878 Thibaw becomes the new Burmese King. During his reign relations with the British Empire deteriorate.
In 1886 another trade conflict causes a military confrontation between the British Empire and the Burmese state that is, the remaining part of the country, which is not yet occupied by the British. After a short campaign in the course of the third Anglo-Burmese war the British occupy northern Myanmar and the capital Mandalay, as well. Thus entire Myanmar falls under British colonial reign. In the following decades infrastructure measures of the colonial masters cause an unprecedented economical boom in Myanmar. From 1855 to 1930 the area of the Ayeyarwaddy delta used for cultivation of rice increases ten times to roughly 4 Million hectare.
In 1930 first in Yangon, then also in other towns, antiIndian transgressions take place. During the previous decades the British colonial masters had true to the proverb Divide And Conquer brought a large number of Indian administrative officials to Myanmar, who were followed by Indian settlers in even larger numbers.
Between 1930 and 1942 Burmese nationalists agitate increasingly for an end of the colonial reign and Burmese sovereignty, especially in the AllBurma Student Movement under the leadership of Aung San and U Nu.
In 1936 the British grant Myanmar a certain degree of autonomy. After it has for decades been part of the crown colony India, in 1937 Myanmar finally becomes an autonomous colony in the British Empire. The British allow Myanmar a constitution and a parliament of its own.
THE WORLD WAR II, POSTWAR PERIOD
In 1942 the 15th Japanese army invades Myanmar. It is initially supported by a small troop of Burmese nationalists, among them Aung San and his comrade in arms Ne Win. While the Japanese troops quickly gain control of the Burmese central regions, the British colonial forces retreat to India but not without destroying a large part of the infrastructure, which had been built in the decades of colonial reign, in a policy of burnt earth.
The Japanese declare Myanmar independent. Aung San becomes Burmese Minister of War, Ne Win ascends to the rank of Chief of the General Staff of the pro-Japanese Burmese army. During the three-year occupation of Myanmar by the Japanese, British units continue attacks on Japanese units and on the Burmese administration instated by them, in a kind of guerilla warfare. Both sides suffer enormous losses.
When it becomes obvious that Japan is going to lose the war, in March 1945 the Burmese army led by Aung San changes sides and declares itself allies of the allied forces. In the following months Burmese troops support the reconquest of Myanmar by the British forces.
The Japanese troops in Myanmar surrender in August 1945. The British temporarily reinstate their colonial administration, but meet with strong opposition from Burmese nationalists under the leadership of Aung San. In January 1947 at a conference in London the British Labor government under Prime Minister Atlee concedes to the Burmese demand for independence.
During parliamentary elections held in April 1947 Aung San’s AntiFascist People’s Freedom League wins 248 out of 255 parliament seats. But on July 19, 1947, Aung San and five of his closest advisors fall prey to an assassination by prewar Prime Minister U Saw.
THE INDEPENDENCE PERIOD
At 4.20 am of January 4, 1948, a time recommended by Burmese astrologers, the Burmese flag is raised over Yangon and the country formally gains its independence. U Nu, who has played a significant part during the Burmese student revolts in the 30’s, becomes the first Prime Minister of the new state. But, within the next few months Myanmar topples into chaos. Rebellions of Communists and Muslim separatists in Arakan arise.
The Karen declare their independence from the Burmese state on May 5, 1948, but are not acknowledged by the Burmese government. Since that time the civil war between Karen and the Burmese army keeps smoldering. Only in 1951 the government under U Nu succeeds to gain a semblance of control over the country by military means.
Internal conflicts inside the government party cause PM U Nu in 1958 to order the Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff of the army, General Ne Win, to create a temporary military government.
Rebellions of the Kachin and the Shan in the North of Myanmar reach a peak in 1961.
On March 2, 1962, Ne Win and a group of Generals seize political power in a coup d’état. Numerous politicians and delegates of the ethnic minorities, who at that time are present in Yangon because of a conference to find peaceful solutions of ethnic conflicts, are arrested. All parliamentary institutions are dissolved and are replaced by a Revolutionary Council consisting of 17 members.
In April 1962 the military government publishes a communiqué titled The Burmese Way To Socialism in which Myanmar is prescribed a cocktail of Marxism and Buddhism as state philosophy.
In 1972 Ne Win and 20 of his followers from the Burmese army resign from their military posts and form a civilian government.
On January 3, 1974, the country is rechristened Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma and a new constitution is validated. The Burma Socialist Program Party, formerly founded by Ne Win, is admitted as the sole political party. Party Chief Ne Win takes the newly created post of Head of the state council and becomes President besides.
In 1976 a coup d’etat attempt by young officers fails and is followed by numerous executions.
In 1981 Ne Win resigns as President of State, but remains at the head of the Burma Socialist Program Party … and thus remains the man pulling the strings from the background.
THE PRESENT DAY
After Myanmar’s fall into the economical abyss in the previous years, in March 1988 first, massive demonstrations against the government arise in Yangon. The demonstrations continue for several months. Although those demonstrations had been tolerated over several months, on August 8, 1988, the army uses violence against demonstrators in Yangon, resulting in many deaths. In the days that follow also in other towns of Myanmar demonstrations are dissolved by the use of weapons. The international meda mention 3,000 to 4,000 dead and 12,000 injured. The Burmese military under the leadership of General Saw Maung take over political power on September 18, 1988, and form the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) as the new government. SLORC promises free elections within the shortest time. In July 1989 the cofounder of the Burmese opposition party National League for Democracy, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, is placed under restrictive orders not to leave her house in Yangon. During parliamentary elections on May 27, 1991, which in the opinion of foreign observers were conducted mostly in a fair manner, the candidates of the opposition party National League for Democracy win with 82 % of the 13 Million given votes 392 of 485 parliament seats. In October 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi is awarded the Peace Nobel Prize. She is released from house arrest in June 1995.