In Memory of Heroes: Those Who Fought with Both Pen and Fist

by mohingamatters

The regime has cost thousands of lives during the Spring Revolution in Myanmar: some were gunned down during non-protest movements while others were killed in interrogation rooms, and many on battlegrounds. Those who gave their lives were from all walks of life including artists, doctors, teachers, students, and housewives. Some of them had been involved with political activism their entire lives, some joined the resistance as they could not accept the regime’s coup.

Three years ago, a famous poet K Za Win @ Chan Thar Swe was killed during an anti-coup demonstration in Monywa, Sagaing Region. On March 3, 2021, K Za Win was shot and his injured body was dragged on the street by the regime’s soldiers following a protest he had organized. K Za Win died at the scene, his death was mourned by the public, especially those who admired his work. K Za Win’s talent had been recognized as early as the age of 16 when his poem appeared in a school magazine. After his land was notoriously seized by the Chinese-owned company for the Letpadaung copper mine project, he later got involved with advocating for land rights and education reforms. His most famous published work was a collection of poems called My Reply to Ramon. Although he had been critical of the National League for Democracy (NLD), K Zay Win defended the party’s election victory and led protests to show his support. Just before his death, K Za Win wrote on Facebook:

“Though I have different views than you all,

I would still lay down my life for you.”

Three years after K Za Win’s death, we lost another poet/activist who had written a peace poem and died fighting for it. His name was Ko Aung Khant Zaw @ Ko Japan Gyi. Ko Japan Gyi was a student at Pathein Technological University between 2012 and 2015, he was a member of Pathein District Students’ Union and Pathein Technological University’s Students’ Union under the All Burma Students’ Defense Front (ABSDF). During his university years, his poem titled We Set Out a Journey to Find Peace, which was composed in collaboration with a friend, won first prize in the poem competition organized by Pen Myanmar.

Following the coup, Ko Japan Gyi decided to join the armed resistance and participated in the military training batch 2 of Daung Taman Station under the ABSDF. On March 22, 2024, Ko Japan Gyi was one of the rangers who was carrying out battles to siege the regime’s stations in Karen State. Tragically, he took a bullet in his neck and passed away with wounds. He was just 30.

The National Unity Government (NUG)’s ambassador to the Czech Republic U Linn Thant wrote the following tribute to Ko Japan Gyi on his Facebook page.

“A resistance ranger and poet Ko Aung Khant Zaw, who had been regarded as a potential young leader for the Ayawaddy Region nobly sacrificed his life fighting for the Spring Revolution on March 22. Salute to him.”

ABSDF also released a statement that the Front will forever be proud of Ranger Japan Gyi for his sacrifices for the federal democratic revolution.

In solidarity, we would like to show respect and appreciation to him by publishing a stanza from his award-winning peace poem with permission from his co-writer.

Amidst the false gestures of arms and peace,

Genuine faith fades away,

While desires multiply.

When the line blurs between counterfeit and genuine,

True kin is torn apart.

With sincere hope

For peace’s discovery,

We embark on our journey.

In peace,

We must seek

Love and compassion,

Support and partnership,

And retiring to bed without fear,

Waking without dread.

Peace where no soul perishes, no earth lays waste.

Let us unbar the cage,

Release the binds and chains.

Our journey shall commence,

In pursuit of peace,

With white doves as our guides.

As Ba Gyi Hmaing (Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing) said,

“I yearn for peace before my last breath.”

So too shall it be,

One day peace shall prevail,

And we shall persist in reciting peace’s verse.

Note: The poem was written in the Myanmar language originally under the pennames of Ottaya Lamin & Bal Gyaw (Ko Japan Gyi).

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