The following is a text by Mr. Siegfried Ehrmann, who during a visit to Cambodia brought back remarkable research results on the Khmer Rouge (or "Democratic Kampuchea") flag. He had noticed that the version of this flag that is still widely used today did not correspond to originals in Cambodia. In it, the connections to the Khmer Rouge flag are presented in detail.
Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979)
widespread but unconfirmed variant
Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979)
Variant, War Museum, Siem Reap
During my last trip through Cambodia in January this year, I noticed a medium-sized flag (approx. 80x50 cm) during a visit to the War Museum in Siem Reap, which reminded me strongly of the Khmer Rouge regime with its yellow stylisation of Angkor Wat on a medium red background, and which, according to a museum employee, could probably date from that time or even from the time before the takeover in 1975.
Exhibits at the War Museum in Siem Reap (2008)
This museum flag would certainly have been quickly forgotten if I hadn't happened to come across a Democratic Kampuchea flag version again and again after my return, in the course of research on the Khmer Rouge regime, which didn't have much in common with the one in Siem Reap, and with the arched towers didn't exactly remind me of Angkor Wat either. My interest was piqued, and it was the beginning of a long search through the depths of the internet.
Flag in the War Museum, Siem Reap
Democratic Kampuchea - Internet Version
As is well known, the Khmer Rouge regime in Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) was very publicity-shy and almost completely closed off to the outside world. Foreign journalists were not welcome, and so there are very few photographic documents that have survived the reign of terror.
(In recent years, historians from all over the world have processed and translated many documents from that time in cooperation with the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM) in Phnom Penh. Most of the photographs, however, come from the Tuol Sleng S21 camp and show the faces of prisoners who were later murdered.).
During my research I could not find any pictures showing the flag of Democratic Kampuchea. Occasionally, there were images of red flags, but due to the poor black and white quality of the images, it was not possible to tell whether they contained the Angkor Wat symbol, a communist hammer and sickle variant, or were simply red flags.
The first breakthrough finally came with the discovery of a stamp. As it turned out, the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) in New York had issued stamp series with the flags of its member countries from 1980 - 1989, and on 22 September 1989 (*) the flag of Democratic Kampuchea (along with Honduras, Guinea-Bissau and Cyprus) was immortalised in this way (**).
UN postage stamp Democratic Kampuchea, 1989
As can be clearly seen in the picture, the towers of Angkor Wat are pointed and slightly rounded at the top, thus clearly contradicting all versions of dome-shaped spires. An enquiry in the archives of the UN revealed that it was this flag that flew in front of the UN building. However, it has not yet been possible to determine from when to when it was in use there, and an enquiry with the flag manufacturer has not yet yielded any clear indications.
The decisive discovery was finally made in the book "A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979)" by Khamboly Dy (Documentation Center of Cambodia), published in 2007. On page 21, it shows a picture of the flag of Democratic Kampuchea, which in turn is identical to the stamp version.
The Flag of Democratic Kampuchea as it really looked
And that settled the question of what the flag of Democratic Kampuchea really looked like. Whether these flags were made in friendly countries (such as China or, initially, Vietnam) or in the country itself has not yet been established.
However, the fact that the flag of the book illustration and that of the War Museum were made of a rather medium red cloth, which clearly contradicts the bright red of the internet illustrations and the usual red of communist and socialist flags, speaks for a local production. Perhaps there were also shortages in supply to produce the communist-coloured red, or the colours have changed over time. And anyway, there will not have been a very large production.
The starting point of my research was to find the origin of the War Museum flag from Siem Reap, the result of which is that an official version of the flag of Democratic Kampuchea can now finally be published.
Whether the War Museum version with its tapered towers and three instead of two side steps is an early Khmer Rouge variant, was produced as a variation during 1975 - 1979, or was perhaps used by one or another Khmer Rouge faction after 1979, may one day be determined after all.
© 2008 by Siegfried Ehrmann
My special thanks...
... to Volker Preuss for his great interest in my investigations and for the quick implementation of the knowledge gained (www.flaggenlexikon.de)
… to Bruce Sharp for his support with historical information and his research in the Khmer-speaking area (www.mekong.net)
When the Vietnamese army ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, most of the world lined up in confrontationalist Cold War positions. By intervening, Hanoi was seen as having created 'the Cambodian problem' rather than having ended the genocide. With the support of Australia as well as the United States and China, the Khmer Rouge held on to Cambodia's U.N. seat. The only major Western country that abstained, but did not vote against the Khmer Rouge on the issue, was France.
From 1979 to 1982 the Khmer Rouge continued to hold Cambodia's seat alone, using the name 'Democratic Kampuchea.' Then two smaller non-communist parties joined them in a 'Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea' -- in fact neither a real coalition, nor a government, nor democratic, nor in Cambodia! Thus the Khmer Rouge flag flew over New York until 1992.