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Old ministerial building opens gates for unique glimpse


Members of a Muslim Youth Group display portraits of the fallen Martyrs' outside Old Ministerial building. Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima

Myanmar’s historical Government Building, known to some as the “Secretariat,” was open to the public to view and pay their respects to fallen Martyrs yesterday. The opening attracted hundreds upon thousands to gain a glimpse into the office where Bogyoke Aung San was gunned down 68 years ago.

It opened for half a day last year attracting people who would never have thought it were possible. One man this reporter spoke to had been living in the United States of America where he has raised three sons, and now in his 60’s has returned to Myanmar to view the iconic landmark.

“That is the office where Aung San was shot!” the man pointing up at a boarded up window, “The curtains are closed because it is a prayer room now.” For the initial period of the opening, spectators were required to stick to the fading bitumen and tended gardens while having the opportunity to pose in front of massive red arches and a remembrance monument with the names of the Martyrs.

As 10:37am rolled on car horns in the vicinity grew into a monotone and people froze and bowed their head in remembrance as photographers snaked through the masses grabbing snapshots of those commemorating the fallen heroes.

This was the best time to sneak up to the time frozen office. A set of stairs led to a dark room that had thousands of metal bunk beds (seemingly) stretching to the high ceiling. Stepping carefully through this dark room you are met with another well-lit corridorthat led to the office.

The office was locked, the best you could do was to press ones face or camera against the glass and take in the view. The small room with polished floor boards and a giant cream pillar in the middle of the room that blocked a table of flowers. To the right of the office sat a small blue cabinet with flower vases on top, in the centre a photo of the deceased Prime Minister.

The Global New Light of Myanmar issued a Martyr’s day issue that said the blue cabinet is where Aung San was seated when he was met with a hail of bullets bursting from the barrels of a tommy gun. It was the only part that resembled what the room may have looked like, the room now polished, decorated with flowers and images of the Buddha is what lasts of this historic room.

This site had been tended by government forces since 1947 and then deserted in 2005, as Naypyitaw became the new capital and new home for green suited leaders. Since the move it has been slowly falling apart and fenced off to the general population – until last year.

Last years open day was not planned and people nearby were just allowed to enter. Whereas this year a notification had been placed in papers alerting people, hence the large crowds from far and wide entering to catch a glimpse of the magnificent grounds.

“The day was very successful and we were extremely happy to see the general public exploring the site and engaging with this previously inaccessible but extremely important part of their national history,” said Rupert Mann, Program Manager at the Yangon Heritage Trust. The group weren’t responsible for the open day.

Anawmar Art Group is currently dealing with the redevelopment of the groundswhich they intend to turn into a museum and art gallery. Soe Thwin Tun - grandson of U Tun Gyi (who was ousted by Khin Nyunt in 1997 for corruption).

“We opened the Secretariat site on the Martyrs' Days of 2014 and 2015. Last year we made offerings to Buddhist monks both in the Shrine Room and in front of the Parliament in honor of the fallen martyrs,” said Soe Thwin Tun.

This year the group invited 100 Buddhist Monks and made offerings infront of the parliament in the same places as the year before.

Soe Thwin Tun told Mizzima that the group intends to open the grounds to the public all year round, but it is necessary that the 100-year-old building receive attention to its dilapidated state.

“The staircases on the Bo Aung Kyaw Wing and the Mahabandoola Wing are currently being under restoration and hence this year we requested all visitors to refrain from using the staircases to go upstairs. 

However, due to the high demand of overwhelming visitors, we had to give them an access.” It is estimated that around 10,000 visitors flocked to see the site on July 19.

Focus of restoration efforts is on the shrine room and the parliament, “Since they are historically important, we are taking a great caution not to disrespect the fallen martyrs but to restore the areas in an appropriate way,” Soe Thwin Tun told Mizzima.

International organisers are assisting with technical efforts and the Yangon Heritage Trust is assisting with conservation management plans. Foreign experts who have assisted are working on conservation and restoration of the building.

Anawmar Art Group received a backlash in March 2015 for hosting a birthday party on the historic sites where Facebook users, including Information Minister U Ye Htut, expressed their dismay over the birthday bash for Daw Thi Thi Tun – mother of Soe Thwin Tun and daughter of U Tun Gyi who is also a director of Anawmar Art Group.

But the memory of this event was long forgotten on 19 July, as members of the public snapped selfies and children chased each other avoiding rubble as guards watched – the grounds are returning not just to the high rollers, but to the public.

A small gathering of the Muslim Youth Network of Myanmar gathered at the south fence of the facility holding portraits of each member killed, they had previously gathered at the burial hill to hold prayers for the people’s martyrs.

Thazin Hlaing of the Muslim Youth Network Myanmar said that it is good to be able to celebrate on the grounds again this year, however it isn’t enough and that people should be educated to have the same mindset as the Martyrs’.

“When we look back, it is very obvious that our martyrs had done their best for the country without any corruption. They did not use the power for themselves but for the country,” said Thazin Hlaing, going on to say.

“So Martyr’s day reminds me as an event where the good people were attacked by the power obsessed bad people,

No matter what kind of discrimination we have, on this day, we cannot deny the fact that those two [U Razak who was Muslim and KoHtwe, U Razak’s body guard, also Muslim] were also the Martyrs who were assassinated on 19 July by U Saw. I also believe that the people in this country are not that stupid to try to deny this fact.”

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