Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. War, its infinite brutality and bestiality! It’s eternal, tragic, deathly realism. It’s private and public sorrow. A war within. A dictatorial State in a bloody and damned war against its own people.
In a moment it seemed to be a small, little slice of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II in Japan – the cities bombed with an atom bomb, the cities like a mass furnace and gas chamber, burnt and ravaged with infinite intensity, never seen or experienced before, not even in the imagined hell-fire of eternal, mythical condemnations. This hell-fire and the eternal physical and mental suffering it created, apart from the tens of thousands dead, would take decades to extinguish, for the dead, the survivors, and those who witnessed it from far and closely.
In another moment it was almost like the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968 – innocent villagers killed indiscriminately by the invading Yankee troops, for no rhyme or reason. At another moment, this looked exactly like what has been happening in the Middle-East, first, Iraq, where they found no WMDs but left millions dead, the entire country destroyed, and looted, and a damned civil war between two Islamic communities under the warped and sinister Huntington project of ‘Clash of Civilisations’, manufactured by the American war-machine and arms industry.
Then, it almost looked like Aleppo in Syria, another tiny slice of a ravaged civilization, an entire town bustling with life suddenly turned into an apocalyptic rubble, like a burnt-out, distorted, metallic, disjointed installation in full public view. A post-modern Guernica of the contemporary era. At other instances it looked like what routinely looks like under military and dictatorial occupations: in occupied Palestine, for instance.
Something macabre has happened recently in Burma, and the neighbourhood and the world can simply not choose to ignore it anymore. This is because this dictatorial regime, discredited and universally disliked, by its own people, and all those who can see its blood-soaked brutality, is not going to go away easily. But it must go, and this genocide must stop.
Pa Zi Gyi. Sagaing Region. Burma. Located 150 km from Mandalay, the second biggest town of the country, one of the epicenters of fierce resistance since the coup against a democratically elected government in February 2021. Now, where have you seen fighter jets and helicopters used by the country’s Air Force, and artillery guns, being used with such ruthless precision and repeatedly, again and again, against its own people – this is unprecedented and this has no parallel in history.
On April 11, 2023, the Burma Air Force, did a series of targeted bombings in the village of Pa Zi Gyi, where the opposition forces had organized a function, while inaugurating a new building. Scores of locals, villagers, women and children, including, perhaps, rebels, were participating in this peaceful function. Then the bombings started – in repeated attacks from the sky, while artillery guns inside helicopters, shot at people assembled on the ground.
When the smoke cleared, all that was left were the dead, their scattered limbs and body parts strewn all over, and it was difficult to tell who is who, in this tragic landscape of deathly tragedy. More than 170 are reportedly dead, and the figure could be more. More than 30 children were killed in cold blood – and this is not the first time they have killed children, while targeting children, from military aircrafts. At least one school has been bombed, with children in the classroom and playing outside, recently.
After a long time, after the massacre, the Indian and international media seemed to have noticed that there is a country called Burma in the world map. However, the news went cold soon after, with no follow-ups, even while country after country, from America to Germany, and, of course, the various bodies of the UN, condemned the genocide, seeking action against the Junta, and proposing an international criminal justice process to try the generals who unleashed this massacre of ordinary citizens. One human rights body sought an end to fuel supply to the Burma, so that they are forced not to fly their killer aircrafts. Besides, it is also being alleged that two other totalitarian regimes, China and Russia, are apparently helping this regime in Burma, though no evidence has been seen to prove it.
While obsessed with Ukraine and Russia, if the West will continue to allow this kind of massacres in Burma, then the crisis will only multiply, and so would the politics of armed vengeance and blood-letting. If there are lessons in Burmese history, it is that many ethnic tribes in the border states have fought a relentless armed struggle for decades against the various Bamar-dominated regimes in Burma, even during the short spells of quasi-democracy. Now, even the dominant Bamar community, including students and the educated, have joined the mass resistance with opposition and mainstream parties, including Aung Saan Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, even as thousands of urban men and women, young and old, professionals, students, doctors, teachers and others, have joined the guerilla struggle led by the People’s Defense Force of the National Unity Government NUG). Clearly, they have been compelled to go underground because all windows and doors of democracy and peaceful dissent has been shut, as hundreds of non-violent protesters were murdered on the streets, thousands have been put in jail and tortured, while others have been given death sentence. The media has been totally banned from functioning, except the official propaganda media.
In these depressing circumstances, the massacre is a pointer that any delay in creating conditions of ceasefire, dialogue and the restoration of democracy, will only lead to more genocides and mass tragedies. The Rohingyas of the Rakhine state in Burma, with thousands killed and lakhs turned into abjectly poor, marginalized and degraded refugees in other countries, are perhaps the most persecuted community in the world today. The entire blame for their plight goes to the Junta, and the ruling establishments of the past. They too have the right to return to their own land and live with dignity and freedom; besides, they too have the right to demand justice for the infinite injustice they have suffered.
Burma needs its neighbours to reach out with compassion, magnanimity and strong, steadfast, strategic solidarity. The people of this country need the world, and its neighbours, to look eastwards, and take the Junta to task, for their relentless crimes against humanity. Ceasefire, peace, democracy and dialogue: this is the call of the hour and there is no time to waste. Or else the rivers of blood and sorrow will continue to flow in this tragic and beautiful little country in South Asia.
Amit Sengupta is a journalist