Survivors of the Cambodian genocide gathered to pray and say chants with monks to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge rise to power and the
Survivors of the Cambodian genocide gathered to pray and say chants with monks to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge rise to power and the onset of the Killing Fields genocide that claimed about 2 million lives in between 1975 and 1978. After the prayers the monks made a procession line to receive food and give blessings. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)

Editor's note: As the Cambodian community remembers the victims of the genocide every April 17, many (some studies say most) of the survivors still carry scars from the conflict.Beginning Sunday, the Press-Telegram will run a special series on post-traumatic stress disorder in the Cambodian community.

LONG BEACH - Throughout the day and throughout Long Beach Tuesday the Cambodian community honored victims of the Killing Fields genocide that claimed about two million victims.

From morning prayers to evening programs, to a measure in City Hall to declare April Genocide Awareness Month, it was a day of remembrance.

Survivors of the Cambodian genocide gathered to pray and say chants with monks to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge rise to power and the
Survivors of the Cambodian genocide gathered to pray and say chants with monks to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge rise to power and the onset of the Killing Fields genocide. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)

April 17 marked the 37th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge and the start of a brutal 44-month reign in which millions died from execution, malnutrition, disease and privation.

In an empty lot on Anaheim Street in Cambodia Town, about 100 residents gathered at an annual ceremony organized by nonprofit Killing Fields Memorial Center Inc.

In the pocket park that organizers hope will one day be landscaped and dedicated to genocide victims, 21 monks from wats, or temples, in Long Beach and Los Angeles led morning prayers of commemoration.

One of those in attendance was Pola Soth, a former captain and paratrooper in the Khmer National Armed Forces or FANK.


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Soth was lucky enough to be evacuated by helicopter from Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, but he lost family to the genocide, including his father, uncle and younger brother.

He was also separated from his wife for five years, during which he was unaware of her fate. They were reunited in 1989.

"I came to respect all the people," Soth said. "All my cadet classmates, my compadres."

Before the prayers, Kandy Khoeun, president of the Killing Fields Memorial group, spoke in Khmer of the importance of commemorating the dead and carrying forth their memories, according to a translation.

Venerable Sona Savin, a monk from Los Angeles, through translation, prayed for the souls of the dead and said "we must remember the past."

Other events were held throughout the day in Long Beach, which has the largest number of Cambodians in the United States.

At Long Beach City College, the United Cambodian Community held a program that focused on the "Courage to Remember" and urged residents to share their stories.

City Hall was the site where Councilman Dee Andrews urged the City Council to recognize not only the Killing Fields, but genocide worldwide by declaring April Genocide Awareness Month.

Numerous organizations remember genocides in April, and earlier this year Georgia declared April Genocide Prevention and Awareness month.

After the City Council meeting, a number of residents and members of Khmer Memorial Inc., reconvened on Anaheim Street for a candlelight vigil.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2093, twitter.com/gregmellenpt