The Modern Period: The war

As for other domains including administrative and socio-economic development, any progress that had been made in cultural heritage management since Independence was lost over the following decades. The activities of the Conservation were considerably reduced from the early 1970s on. Military presence in the region progressively rendered the archaeological sites inaccessible. As the Park itself fell into the hands of Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops, the Conservation shifted its efforts to sites in and south of Siem Reap town. The research, conservation and restoration program that had expanded and reinforced its internal coherency, especially in the 1960s, was dismantled. With the rise of the Khmer Rouge to power in April 1975, all the elements of the living Buddhist cult, were purposely destroyed (religious leaders, Buddhist monasteries, Buddha images, manuscripts, etc.), but the Khmer Rouge had no systematic policy concerning the vast quantities of archaeological material at their disposal. Indifference seems to have been the general rule, and the monuments, as well as objects placed in the Conservation were for the most part simply neglected.

However, while Angkor was physically abandoned, the concept of Angkor as a civilization did figure in Khmer Rouge ideology. The temple of Angkor Wat adorned Democratic Kampuchea's national flag. The national hymn proclaimed Khmer Rouge advances on Angkorian civilization. Cynically denouncing the "slave labor" through which the ancient Empire was built, the Khmer Rouge nonetheless capitalized on Angkor as the hereditary model on which an ideology of personal sacrifice for monumental collective works was based. Nonetheless, the Angkorian heritage did not escape the Khmer Rouge period unscathed. Mines were detonated, for example, at certain post-Angkorian stone Buddha images. Numerous post-Angkorian wooden images from Angkor Wat are known to have been burned for firewood. In comparison to the architectural and artistic heritage, the Angkorian hydrological infrastructure suffered most at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Massive engineering projects undertaken with forced labor and ostensibly meant to augment irrigation capacities proved counterproductive, disrupting rather than ameliorating the pre-war hydrological system, itself largely based on Angkorian structures. These alterations made to a hydrological network that in centuries of use had proved to be efficient continue to hamper development in Siem Reap today.

Driving out the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Vietnamese troops took over the town of Siem Reap, contributing to the desstruction and looting of Angkor. Occupying troops started with-drawing from the Conservation compound in October of 1980, at which time an Indian delegation visited Angkor to undertake the first archaeologi-cal inspection since the early 1970s. A Khmer conservation team was pro-gressively established in the compound, and by February 1982 Vietnamese military presence in the compound had come to an end.


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