Myanmar FAQ

Some people call this country Burma and some people call it Myanmar. Which one is correct?
That is a simple question with a complicated answer. When this country was a part of the British Empire (from 1824-1948), there was no question that the country was called Burma. The name Burma derives from the name Bama or Bamar, which is the largest ethnic group in the country.

Since there are more than 135 ethnic groups within Burma besides the majority Bamar, in 1989 the government changed the official name of the country from Union of Burma to Union of Myanmar. Myanmar is a much more inclusive name for the country. But there was a controversy over this name change. The prior year the ruling junta put down the democracy movement, killing thousands, imprisoning the opposition leadership and placing the democratically elected leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. No one had the opportunity to vote for the name change. It was an arbitrary decision made by the military dictatorship.

The United States and Great Britain, along with other western nations, continued to call the nation Burma, so as to not give legitimacy to the generals who ruled the country. In fact, calling the country “Burma” was like a code word for supporting the democracy movement in this Southeast Asian nation.

In 2011-12 the country instituted a number of reforms, and held elections that were more free and fair than had been anticipated. As a result, western governments and leaders are beginning to use both Burma and Myanmar when referring to this country, as both are recognitions of a legitimate government.

There’s more that could be written on this topic, but that would mean getting into the etymology of the words Bama and Myanma. If you’re interested, here’s the rest of the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_Burma#Etymology

In short, this website mostly uses Myanmar for the sake of continuity and clarity, but both Burma and Myanmar are correct. Over time, it is likely that Burma will fade from common use, and the country will be referred to as Myanmar.

What are the major religions in Burma?
Theravada Buddhism is the predominant religion in Myanmar, with nearly 90% of the population claiming this as their religion. Theravada Buddhism coexists with astrology, numerology, fortune-telling and the worship of ancestral spirits known as Nats. Approximately 4% of the population are Christians. Muslims, Hindus and animists make up the remainder.

I have heard that Christians are persecuted in Myanmar. Is that right?
There certainly has been persecution of both Christians and Muslims in Myanmar. A case can be made that it is more ethnic than religious persecution. For example, the Muslims are almost exclusively from an ethnic group known as the Rohingyas, who have been denied citizenship. Christians are generally from certain ethnic groups as well. Read more about Christian persecution in Burma at Persecution.com.

But despite the root cause – ethnic or religious – churches have been destroyed or closed, and Christians have been discriminated against in hiring and promotions. Missionaries are not allowed into the country.

The new constitution provides for the freedom of religion; however, it also grants broad exceptions that allow the regime to restrict these rights at will.

Just where is Myanmar anyway?
Myanmar is in Southeast Asia. From west to east, Myanmar shares borders with Bangladesh, India. China, Laos and Thailand.

How large of a country is Myanmar?
Myanmar is about the size of the state of Texas. See below for a visual comparison of Myanmar vs. Texas. You can scroll in and move the map around to see a close-up of surrounding countries.

What are Myanmar’s main industries?
Myanmar is a nation rich in natural resources. While its main industry is agriculture, it also has many riches below ground: gold, precious gems, natural gas and more. With good leadership, Myanmar has the opportunity to become a wealthy nation. It remains poor because the ruling class has mismanaged its many resources. It is hoped that with the recent turn towards democracy, the economy will substantially improve.

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