Khmer history is one of the most fascinating in the world stretching from the 9th century to the decline of the Khmer empire. Leaving behind a vast wealth of monuments, temples, relics and evidence of advancements that rivaled much of the world.
Fast forward to the 19th and 20th centuries the rediscovery of these ancient relics sparked international interest, especially in the West. Unfortunately, this interest paved the way for smugglers to capitalize on ancient Khmer treasures amid a state weakened and distracted by it’s own infighting politics leading to an unknown number of precious Khmer relics stolen away to foreign lands.
The good news, Unesco and the International Council of Museums issued the “Looting in Angkor, One Hundred Missing Objects” report in 1993 which listed at least some of the known stolen artifacts. The same year, Cambodia enshrined cultural heritage in law and three years later also implemented the Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage. The law is still intact today.
The importance of the return of Khmer ancient relics has meaning beyond simply retrieving lost artifacts.
Minister of Culture and Fine arts Phoeurng Sackona says it best.
“Getting Khmer antiquities back to Cambodia and its people are important for two main reasons,” she says.
“Firstly, Khmer artifact repatriation is a part of the psychological reconciliation of the Cambodian people who, after years of war lost loved ones, personal property and part of their heritage. Whether given through charity, by negotiation, court advocates or legal recapture, their return plays a vital role in fulfilling them. It is a symbol of the reunification of the souls of Khmer Ancestors separated from their home.”
“Secondly, it helps to fill in the missing gaps in academic research within the Kingdom, especially in the fields of humanities including history, archaeology, language, religion and politics. It benefits everyone, both Khmer and other nationalities who want to learn about our culture”