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Le dictionnaire

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KHMER KROM

This term refers to ethnic Khmers living in the “lower” Mekong region (krom or duoi meaning “below” in Khmer and Vietnamese respectively), now a part of the nation state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Ethnic Khmers first inhabited the lower Mekong before the Vietnamese began consolidating their hold over the delta from the 17th century. Vietnamese conquest left hundreds of thousands of Khmers living under the rule of the Nguyen dynasty when the French began colonizing the Mekong delta in 1859 in the form of a Cochin-chinese colony based out of Saigon. The French Second Empire followed this up a few years later by establishing a protectorate over all of Cambodia.

By creating colonial Cochinchina, the French established a precise and internationally recognized legal border separating this southern colony and its inhabitants from the Cambodian protectorate, even though both territories were part of the Indochinese Union created in 1887. This had the effect of placing ethnic Khmers living within Cochinchinese borders under the sovereignty of French Cochinchina, and not under the jurisdiction of Cambodian “protected” authorities. In other words, Khmer Krom, in legal terms, became colonial Cochinchinese subjects. Meanwhile, during the colonial period, Khmer Krom concentrated in Cochinchinese provinces such as Tra Vinh and Tri Ton continued to come into contact with the ever-increasing numbers of ethnic Vietnamese living in and moving into the area. Many Khmer Krom learned Vietnamese and intermarried, including future nationalists such as Dap Chhuon. Moreover, Khmer Krom produced some of Cambodia’s best-known nationalists, including Son Ngoc Thanh. However, there were also tensions between ethnic Khmer and Vietnamese living in southern Vietnam, as increased Vietnamese immigration put greater pressure on local Khmer lands, opportunities, and identities.

The crumbling of colonial Indochina following the Japanese coup de force of 9 March 1945 and the concomitant surge in Vietnamese nationalism did not ensure the peaceful resolution of such problems. Nor did French efforts to turn the Khmers against the Vietnamese during the Indochina War. Between 1945 and 1947, for example, ethnic violence escalated between ethnic Khmers and Vietnamese in the lower Mekong, resulting in a number of massacres setting Khmers against Vietnamese. While the French were at first content to fan Khmer hostility in order to contain Vietnamese nationalism, they found themselves backtracking as their own Bao Dai solution obligated them to transfer their cherished Cochinchinese colony to the Associated State of Vietnam. Cochinchina, meaning its colonially established borders and the populations residing within them, became part of a territorially unprecedented Vietnamese nation-state, the Associated State of Vietnam.

The Cambodian government, led by Norodom Sihanouk, opposed the incorporation of territories and populations considered to have been “Cambodian” before the French carved out colonial Cochinchina. For Cambodian nationalists, “Kampuchea Krom” or Lower Cambodia along with its ethnic Khmers had to be transferred to the nation-state represented by the Associated State of Cambodia. However, by signing accords with the Vietnamese creating the Associated State of Vietnam in 1949, the French effectively acquiesced to the transformation of precolonial Kampuchea Krom territories and Khmer Khrom colonial subjects into Vietnamese national ones, much to the anger of the Cambodian governments and Cambodian nationalists to this day. Some three hundred thousand ethnic Khmers are thought to live in southern Vietnam today. See also CAO DAI; CAM LY, MASSACRE; HÉRAULT, MASSACRE; HOA HAO; MINORITY ETHNIC GROUPS; MY THUY, MASSACRE; OVERSEAS CHINESE; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN THAILAND; PAYS MONTAGNARDS DU SUD; TAI FEDERATION.