Aung San Suu Kyi, The Lady, Mother and Diplomat

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in 1945 to Aung San a prominent figure in Burma and his wife Khin Kyi. Aung San was the founder of the modern Burmese army and was instrumental in negotiating Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947. That same year however, he was assassinated that by political rivals. Aung San Suu Kyi was one of three children. Then tragedy struck, one brother died in an accident in an ornamental garden pond. This prompted for her family to move house. As a young girl, Aung San Suu Kyi was introduced to culturally different neighbours. She went to school and became proficient at languages.  She also embraced Theravada Buddhism.

Several years later her mother gained prominence in her political role and was appointed the Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960. Aung continued her studies and graduated from New Delhi with a degree in politics in 1964. From there she travelled to Great Britain to continue her studies and gained a place at the prestigious St Hugh’s College Oxford. In 1969 she proved her aptitude by achieving her B.A. Degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Aung San thought of moving to New York City with a family friend and former Burmese pop singer. She got a job at the United Nations for the next three years. It was here she met her husband Englishman Michael Aris as a colleague.

Michael was a scholar on Tibetan studies and they clearly had a lot in common and would communicate frequently. He had spent six years as the private family tutor to the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Michael became a leading scholar of Asian studies and particularly neighbouring cultures of the Himalayan countries. Both found they have a lot in common and in late 1971 Aung San Suu Kyi married Aris. After spending the following year in Bhutan they decided to settle in North Oxford, England and the following year they had their first son. Their second son arrived in 1977 and they stayed in England happily raising their two sons Alexander and Kim. During these years Michael focused on post graduate studies of Tibetan Literature gaining a PhD in 1978 from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Between 1985 and 1987 Suu Kyi worked towards an M. Phil in Burmese literature whilst a research student in London reading at the School of Oriental and African studies. Later she would be elected as an Honorary Fellow in 1990.  For two years she was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla, India. Not to be content and knowing she can do more, Suu Kyi also found time to work for the government of the Union of Burma.

It was in 1988 when she decided to return to Burma to attend her ailing mother and then later to lead a political movement. She was soon placed in house arrest and cut off from all communication. She was offered freedom in exchange to leave Burma. True Burmese that she was, she vowed to stay and help her party. In 1990 parliamentary elections were held and her party won a total landslide. She continued her struggle and was released from house arrest in July 1995.

As a Fellow Michael was supported by St John’s College with a full leave of absence plus expenses so that he could lobby for her cause. Michael set up a Tibetan and Himalayan Studies centre at Oxford. Suu Kyi and Michael’s marriage was put to a test during this tumultuous period. In 1997 he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer but was denied an entry visa to visit her. In 1999 Dr. Michael Aris died on his 53rd birthday in Oxford. They last time they had seen each other was at Christmas in 1995. During her house arrest they were allowed to see each other a total of five times.

Aung Suu Kyi won the coveted Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts in attaining democracy through nonviolent means. Suu Kyi also won the Jawaharlal Nehru award in 1993 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008. Her bravery and resiliency continues  to be an inspiration to the world.

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