Cambodia's history covers the period up to around 1990.
Archaeological finds show that the areas northwest of Ho Chi
Minh City (Saigon) in Cambodia have been inhabited in
Neolithic times. Historical time in Cambodia begins with
Funan Empire (50-500 CE.), Who was succeeded by Chenla
(500-800) and Angkor (800-1431). From 1594 to 1800, Cambodia
was subject to Thailand. In the 19th century, Thailand and
Vietnam waged a series of wars over the rule of Cambodia,
prompting the Cambodian king to seek support from France.
Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863 and was
administered as part of the Indochina colony, interrupted by
Japanese occupation in 1941-1945. Cambodia became
independent in 1953. In 1955, Cambodia resigned from the
French Union and became fully independent. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Cambodia.
From 1955 to 1970, Cambodia was a royal monarchy, but by
a coup in 1970 the king was deposed, and the same year
Cambodia was proclaimed as the Republic of Khmer. There was
a civil war with American and Vietnamese involvement in the
period 1970-1975 (at the same time as the Vietnam War was
going on), while the Red Khmer ruled Cambodia from 1975 to
1979. After the Red Khmer was overthrown, they continued
guerrilla activity. In 1991, the United Nations peace plan
was signed by all combatants, and in 1993 Cambodia was
united as a monarchy.
Funan Empire (50-500 CE.) Had its base in the Mekong
Delta, with vassal -rich northern Malacca and in Thailand.
Funan had a lively trade with India and China. Many of the
traits that characterize the later Khmer empires can already
be found in Funan: a strongly centralized kingdom, organized
by Indian model with a god-king in the lead, surrounded by a
large royal family and a very complicated bureaucracy. The
most important tasks were to control the workforce and
maintain a well-developed irrigation system.
Large parts of the Mekong Delta swamp areas became
fertile land by building hundreds of kilometers of canals,
which decayed after Funan's fall.
In the 500s, Funan was weakened, and a new center of
power emerged further north around the state of Chenla
(about 500-800 AD) in northeastern Cambodia. Chenla expanded
south and west, waging a series of wars against Champa, a
kingdom in central Vietnam. Inscriptions, and later
historical annals, give a chronology of kingdoms, wars and
civil engineering back to about 500 AD.
In the late 700s, Chenla was attacked by Javanese forces,
who sailed up the Mekong and burned cities. In addition,
Chenla was divided into a northern and southern part.
Angkor period (800-1431)
King Jayavarman 2 (800-850) again gathered Cambodia, and
established the capital north of Tonlé Sap, where he and his
successors embarked on large irrigation facilities and built
the enormous monuments now called Angkor. In 1296–1297, a
Chinese envoy visited Angkor and gave a valuable
description. The temples had thousands of priests, servants,
and temple dancers; they required tens of thousands of
peasant labor for maintenance and supplies.
The Khmer Empire (Cambodia) reached its greatest extent
during Suryavarman 2 (1113-150).
The Fight for Cambodia (1431-1863)
During the 1300s, Cambodia quickly fell apart. Thai
armies occupied Angkor in 1369, 1388 and 1431, and the
capital was moved to Lovek. Legislative texts, the earliest
from the 16th century, provide an insight into the different
classes and state apparatus in Cambodia. Lovek's fall in
1594 marked the end of an independent Cambodia, and until
1800 Cambodia was a vassal state under Thailand.
The first Europeans (Portuguese) came to the country
around 1550 as traders, missionaries and adventurers. In the
16th century, a few descriptions of Cambodia were written by
Portuguese and Spaniards. From 1850 several travelogues were
The Vietnamese expanded south from the Tonking area along
the coast of Indochina. In 1471, they conquered Champa and
gained access to the Mekong's underpopulated delta region.
Until 1750, Vietnamese settlers occupied and fortified this
area and introduced Vietnamese administration.
During the period 1800-1850, Thailand and Vietnam waged a
number of wars over the dominion of Cambodia. The Vietnamese
gained control around 1830 and began a hard-fought
Vietnamese policy, which resulted in an uprising in 1840.
The conflict between the Thais and the Vietnamese continued
in Cambodia without anyone taking over.
In 1853 King Ang Duong asked the French Emperor Napoleon
3 for protection, and in 1863 King Norodom (1860-1904)
signed a Protectorate Treaty with France. (See Vietnam's
Under French rule (1863–1955)
In 1867, the French surrendered the provinces of
Battambang and Siem Reap to Thailand, and in 1884 King
Norodom was forced to sign a new treaty which in effect made
Cambodia the French colony. The French used Vietnamese in
lower positions in the administration, and encouraged
Vietnamese immigration into Cambodia. The kings Sisowath
(1904–1927) and Moniwong (1927–1941) cooperated loyally with
the French colonial power.
In 1907, Thailand was forced to give Battambang and Siem
Reap back to Cambodia. The Japanese gave them to Thailand in
1941, but the provinces were reunited with Cambodia in 1946.
Norodom Sihanouk became king in 1941, and in 1949
Cambodia gained independence within the French Union. In the
1940s, two anti-French guerrilla groups were active. One,
Khmer Issarak (The Free Khmer), was led by Son Ngoc Thanh
and used Thailand as the base area. The other, the People's
Freedom Army, was supported by Viet Minh. In 1953, Sihanouk
transferred all power from the French.
The Geneva Conference in 1954 ended with the withdrawal
of all foreign forces from Cambodia and the local rebel
forces disarming. In 1955, Sihanouk abdicated in favor of
his father Suramarit (1955–1960) and formed the party
Sangkum Reastr Niyum (Socialist People's Community),
which won overwhelming victories in the elections of 1955,
1962 and 1966. In 1955, Cambodia resigned from the French
union and became fully independent.
Royal monarchy (1955-1970)
As prime minister and head of state (from 1960), Sihanouk
led a neutral foreign policy. He won little hearing with the
Western powers, however, relations with the Soviet Union and
China were good. Cambodia has repeatedly accused South
Vietnam of border violations.
From 1967, communist activities in the country (Red
Khmer) increased, and Sihanouk responded by pulling to the
right. In 1969, a right-wing government was formed with Lon
Nol as prime minister. Sihanouk demanded that 40,000 North
Vietnamese and FNL soldiers immediately leave Cambodia, but
withdrew from anti-Vietnam riots in Phnom Penh.
At a coup on March 18, 1970, led by Lon Nol, King
Sihanouk was deposed, and in October Cambodia was proclaimed
the Republic of Khmer.
Right dictatorship (1970-1975)
In Beijing, Sihanouk formed a "national unity government"
(GRUNC), dominated by the Cambodian Communists - his former
enemies. In Cambodia, a unity front was created; its armed
forces consisted of communists and Sihanouk supporters. The
guerrilla movement initially received strong support from
Vietnamese communist forces; eventually it came to stand on
its own legs. Lon Nol regime military situation became
increasingly compromised despite extensive assistance from
the US. US troops conducted operations in Cambodia in
April-July 1970, and South Vietnamese forces remained in the
country until 1972.
US aircraft made heavy bomb attacks until August 1973.
During the war, refugees flocked to Phnom Penh, and the
population increased from 600,000 to between 2 and 3
million. The government controlled most cities, but only a
small part of the land area. There was widespread corruption
in the officer corps. Red Khmer, dominant in the guerrilla
movement, managed in January 1975 to block all supply routes
to Phnom Penh, and on April 17, 1975, the government
Red Khmer regime (1975–79)
On April 17, 1975, the government surrendered and the Red
Khmer took power. On the same day, the victors ordered Phnom
Penh to be immediately evacuated by the entire population,
about two million people. The order was enforced without
supervision - thousands of sick and wounded in hospitals
also had to leave. The other towns were also emptied and all
the inhabitants were forced to work colonies in the
countryside. The new rulers launched a peasant revolutionary
program that turned into a humanitarian disaster.
The colonies were characterized by extreme work pressure
under extremely rigorous discipline, which led to mass
deaths of exhaustion, illness and malnutrition. At the same
time, people suspected of being associated with the Lon Nol
regime, or influenced by bourgeois urban culture, were
systematically liquidated. Academics, teachers, Buddhist
monks, civil servants and military were imprisoned and
largely executed. Wearing glasses could arouse suspicion of
literal lessons. Crimes that could be punished with death,
for example, were not to work hard enough, to complain, to
show sorrow to deceased relatives or to practice religion.
For the first time, Red Khmer ruled with a monotonous,
anonymous body of power, Angkar (the
"Organization"). Only in early 1976 did the leaders emerge
in the light of Pol Pot as the highest-ranked "Brother # 1".
A government was now formed with Pol Pot as both head of
government and chief of defense. Pol Pot's brother-in-law,
Ieng Sary, became Deputy Prime Minister. Khieu took over as
head of state.
Prince Sihanouk had returned to Phnom Penh as head of
state in the fall of 1975, but was in reality held captive
and isolated, and formally deposed in April 1976. The
country was renamed and renamed Democratic Kampuchea. A new
era began in the revolution year 1975 as year zero. Money,
private property and religion were banned. The country
closed to the outside world. The exception here was China
and Marxist-Leninist solidarity groups. In 1977, it finally
became clear that Angkar and Cambodia's Communist Party were
one and the same organization; Pol Pot now also emerged as
the party's secretary general. A delegation from the
Norwegian party AKP (ml) visited Phnom Penh in 1978 and was
received by Pol Pot.
Relations with Vietnam were gradually deteriorating
following massacres of Vietnamese and extensive fighting in
disputed border areas. In 1978, hundreds of Vietnamese
villagers were massacred. On December 25, 1979, Vietnam
invaded and expelled the Red Khmer. The People's Republic of
Kampuchea was proclaimed and organized according to
Vietnamese socialist model after the invasion of Phnom Penh
on January 7, 1979.
Victims of the Red Khmer regime
The Cambodian government, which came to power after the
Red Khmer, claimed that over three million died - a figure
rejected by scientists. It was not until 1995 that a
systematic collection of source material began during the
Cambodian Genocide Program, led by researchers from
the American Yale University. After studying nearly one
million document pages from the Red Khmer archives,
researchers have concluded about 1.7 million deaths of a
population estimated in 1975 to be between 7.3 and 7.9
million - a death rate of about one-fifth. About 600,000 of
the victims may have been executed, but the number is
uncertain and may be greater or smaller. It is believed to
have been able to detect over 19,000 mass graves around the
country - Cambodia has since been called the "land of the
The worst hit by the terror was ethnic minorities and
religious groups. Most ethnic Vietnamese, half of about
500,000 ethnic Chinese and a third of the country's 250,000
Muslims lost their lives. Extreme Khmer nationalism
stalemate against Vietnam was otherwise a distinctive
feature of Red Khmer propaganda.
Cambodia after 1979
After the deposition of the Red Khmer, Cambodia was given
a provincial government, led by Heng Samrin, later Hun Hun.
Both were former Red Khmer officers who had jumped off in
1977-78 to escape the purge. The Red Khmer army, which had
been 70,000 men but now reduced to just under half, led
guerrillas against the Vietnamese in the border areas
against Thailand for over a decade. The provincial regime
was isolated internationally; The West introduced trade
boycott following pressure from the United States.
China supplied Red Khmer with weapons, while the
counterpart received support from the Soviet Union. In 1982,
a tactical alliance was formed by three very different
opposition groups: Red Khmer, Prince Sihanouk's faction and
the national liberation front of the anti-Communist Khmer
people. An opposition government was established with
Sihanouk as chief, but otherwise dominated by the Red Khmer.
The coalition was to represent Democratic Cambodia, which,
under the auspices of the Red Khmer, was still recognized by
the UN. Pol Pot was pushed into the background as a
political leader, but continued as military commander of the
Red Khmer faction until he retired on health grounds in
1985. Following the fall of the Pol Pot regime in 1979,
Khieu Shampan became Red Khmer's front figure.
After ten years of continuous fighting, Vietnam withdrew
its forces from Cambodia in 1989. The UN peace plan, signed
by four warring parties in October 1991, brought Cambodia
out of isolation. In 1993, Cambodia was given a new
constitution which introduced a democratic system of
government. Cambodia again changed its name from the
People's Republic to the Kingdom, and Prince Sihanouk, who
had abdicated in 1955, was re-elected as King.