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Mourners gathered across Burma on Sunday, 19 July, a solemn day on the nation’s calendar.
The date represents Martyrs’ Day, when 68 years ago, Burmese independence hero Aung San was assassinated, alongside eight of his governmental cabinet.
This weekend, for just the second time, the historic Secretariat Building was opened, allowing the Rangoon public to catch a glimpse of the site where their hero was cut down.
“I came here because I respect the Martyrs and also have never been here before so I made sure to come around this time”, said artist Soe Win Nyein.
Soe Win Nyein, alongside hundreds of others, chose the historic Secretariat Building as the focus for his day of reflection.
Aung San is responsible both for founding Burma’s national army as well as for peacefully negotiating a 1947 London agreement that paved the way for Burmese self-rule one year later.
But the man still known affectionately as Bogyoke, meaning General, was never to know the Burma that he was so pivotal in creating. He was assassinated in 1947 at the behest of political rival U Saw.
Despite Aung San retaining a place as an icon of Burmese nationalism, the seat of his ill-fated government has now fallen into disrepair, and stands completely abandoned in downtown Rangoon.
On Sunday Administrators opened the doors two hours earlier than advertised, as huge crowds waited to catch a glimpse of the chambers from where Britain ruled colonial Burma and where the country’s first free government was brutally overthrown.
In a bid to save the creaking structure, the Rangoon government has now handed the keys over to Anawmar Art Group. The construction company now holds a 50-year lease, and will oversee a restoration process set to cost upwards of US$50m.
Anawmar Chief administrator Naing Win said crowds were initially blocked from visiting the upper levels of the Secretariat.
“Parts of the building have been decaying and unable to withstand a lot of weight. We are currently renovating the building with help from foreign professional that is why the upper floor is restricted access.”
However the administrators seemed aware of the weight of the occasion, and of the crowds pressing for access. Eventually they allowed the public upstairs, where through the cracks and the keyholes, visitors peaked into a room where sixty eight years ago Burma’s fate was written.