Arakan a state of Myanmar (Burma) situated on the northern and western parts of that country, which exerted considerable influence, both political and cultural, on the South and South-Eastern parts of Bangladesh from very early times. The Arakan Yoma, a long mountain range, separates the rest of Myanmar from Arakan, which is bounded by the bay of bengal and the estuary of the river naf on the Southwest.
The ancient name of Arakan is 'Rakhainepray'. The word Rakhaine is said to have derived from the Sanskrit Raksha and the Pali Yakkha, signifying a monster or a demon. Before the diffusion of buddhism, most Arakanese were worshippers of Nature.
Currently Arakan has four administrative units such as Sandoway, Sittway, Mayu and Kyaukpyu. Akyab is the capital city and the principal port of Arakan. It is situated at the mouth of the Koladan. Before the British occupation of Arakan in 1826, it was a small fishing village. Other major towns and ports are Kyaktaw, Maungdow, Buthidaung and Sandoway.
As is the case with the Bangalis, rice is the staple food of the Arakanese. The population is estimated at about two millions, of whom Buddhists constitute the significant majority. The rest of the population consists of Muslims, Hindus, Christians and animists. The Muslim community, who are next to the Buddhists in number, consists of four groups: Tambukias, Turko-pathans, Kamanchis and rohingyas. The Tambukias trace their history back to the eighth century when their ancestors from Arabia were allowed to settle in southern Arakan by the contemporary king Maha Taing Chandra (788-810).
The next group consisting of the Turks and Pathans are mostly found in the outskirts of Mrohaung, the last capital of Arakan. The Arakanese king Min Soa Muwn alias Narameikhla (1403-33) recaptured his throne with the help of their forebears who were in the army of Bengal. Like the Tambukias, they were allowed to settle in Arakan by the grateful king. The ancestors of the kamanchis came in the train of shah shuja, the Governor of Bengal (1639-59), who took shelter in Arakan with his family and retinues after being overthrown by his brother aurangzeb. Their descendants are to be found mostly in Ramree Island. The Rohingyas are descendants of Muslims who hailed from chittagong. Now they are mainly concentrated in northern Arakan. Their migration in the past usually happened during the agricultural season when Arakan faced the problem of the shortage of agricultural labourers.
Because of her geographical proximity with the south-eastern parts of Bengal, Arakan developed both political and cultural relations with Bangalis. The political situation depended on the fluctuation of powers of the two countries. Taking advantage of the weakness of Sultan Barbak Shah of Bengal, Bosawpyu occupied chittagong district in 1459. For a century it remained in the hands of the Arakanese until they were expelled by the Mughals in 1666.
The impact of Muslim culture on the life of the peoples of Arakan had profound effects on the subsequent course of Arakanese history. Like the Pathan Sultans, the kings of Arakan patronised the cultivation of Bengali literature and many talented poets from different regions thronged to the Arakanese court. Many Muslim Bengali poets attended the Arakanese court. For example, Ashraf Khan held the post of war minister at the time of King Thadomentor (1645-52). Ashraf Khan was popularly known as 'Uzir Laskar'. He was a powerful minister and for his services the king awarded him one sword and some elephants.
After the fall of Chittagong in 1666, the kingdom of Arakan was reduced to a small territory. Politically too, it became unstable. Murder of several kings blackened its history. Between 1731-1784 thirteen kings ruled Arakan. The average rule of each king exceeded not more than two years. In 1784, in the time of Bodawpaya (1782-1819), Arakan was annexed to the Kingdom of Burma, which in turn was made a part of the British dominion in 1826. From 1942 to 1945 it was temporarily put under the occupation of Japan. Burma gained independence on 4 January 1948.
Immediately after Burma gained independence tension increased between the Arakanese Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingyas, resulting in the exodus of a large number of Rohingyas to cox's bazar. The Burmese government claimed that the Rohingyas were relatively recent migrants from the sub-continent. The Burmese constitution, therefore, did not include them among the indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship. In March 1978, due to widespread arrests and expulsions by the Burmese government, a large number of Rohingyas fled into Bangladesh.
Bangladesh received an influx of approximately 250,000 Rohingyas from Burma during 1991-1992. The exodus was triggered off by a complex combination of political, social and economic factors and serious violation of human rights. Thousands of Rohingyas again fled to Bangladesh in 1996 and 1997. Around 200,000 of them had eventually returned to Arakan. According to some estimates, about 20,000 still remain in Bangladesh. This has created many a problem such as public discontent, environmental disaster, and smuggling in border areas, resulting in a colder turn in Bangladesh-Myanmar relations. [Sadat Ullah Khan]