Military Coup in Myanmar: One Furman Student’s Connection to a Crisis
A military coup on the other side of the world changes everything for one Furman student.
Protestors in Myanmar have taken to the street to make their voices heard.
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On Monday, Feb. 1, many Furman students woke up rested and ready for another week of classes, but not sophomore neuroscience major Lia Gaw Ghie Paw. Paw had been up all night, desperately contacting her family in Myanmar (Burma), where the military staged a successful coup, seizing power after detaining State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders.
BBC has reported that coup leaders have since declared a one-year long state of emergency, instituted a curfew, interrupted international and domestic TV channels, and attempted to disrupt internet and phone services. These actions have limited Paw’s contact with her parents who told her “not to worry” if they “lost contact.” Some service has since been restored, however, and Paw said she is grateful to know that her parents are safe.
That said, Paw, her parents, and many other Burmese people know military dictatorship all too well. Paw said her parents still recall the 08/08/88 uprising and subsequent massacre. “They remembered vividly how citizens who protested were shot dead,” Paw said, “students, monks, literally anyone who protested was either imprisoned or shot dead on the streets.” Paw is especially concerned because she and her family belong to a minority ethnic group known as the Kayin that faced religious and ethnic persecution during Myanmar’s military rule that lasted from 1962 to 2011. Paw explained that many ethnic groups like hers are “killed like animals, raped, and lack medicine or shelter.”
But after democratic reforms in the past decade, Paw and others were hopeful. She thought that “after 70 plus years of being governed by the military government, finally we could start living a better life... the country would take a turning point.” Such hope, however, has only made the most recent coup even more shocking. When compounded with the challenges of COVID-19 and the need to get people vaccinated, the situation seems even more dire. “I never thought that I would have to witness both the pandemic and this Myanmar coup in my lifetime,” Paw said.
“When we speak, we are being killed,” explained Paw. Now, she feels that “the only thing Myanmar can hope for is help from developed countries.” According to Al Jazeera, in his first foreign policy address on Feb. 4, Biden said that “the United States was working with its allies and partners to address the generals’ takeover.” Earlier in the week, he threatened to reimpose sanctions. Still, Paw said that she hopes that the United States will take more substantive action and feels that “wrongdoings of the military government must be punished.”
The military wants to “prevent the outside world from knowing what is actually going on,” Paw said, but she also expressed hope that the Furman community will take notice. More specifically, she said that she wants her peers at Furman to “acknowledge the crisis and educate each other.” She also asked that community members “sign the petition to ‘Save Myanmar and honor the 2020 election result’ and “pray for the people of Myanmar.”