Discours lors de la conférence "Asians in the First World War and its Aftermath" à l’université Chulalongkorn - le 9 novembre 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
Chulalongkorn University and the Institute of Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia are bringing to you all, today and throughout the weekend, an unprecedented conference about Asians in the First World War. I am honored to open such a historic initiative for France, and I believe for Thailand, as we commemorate together the hundredth anniversary of the Great War’s end. I am also grateful to Pr. Bhawan Ruansin and Pr. Claire Tran for their joint efforts in organizing this event.
One hundred years ago, on 11 November 2018, France and Germany signed the armistice in the still and silent forest of Compiègne. The Great War then ended. The turmoil of the battlefields ceased and soldiers from all fronts gave up their guns ; with amongst them, an important contingent from the Kingdom of Siam. To be precise, they were exactly 1284 individuals to have joined our forces. 1284 servicemen, aviators and nurses who supported and helped us, sometimes at the cost of their lives. Nineteen Siamese nationals indeed died while assisting our civilian and military forces toward the victory.
Next Sunday, in Paris and Bangkok, we will pay homage to these soldiers who fell defending their countries. We will pay homage to the 18 million of men and women, troops and civilians, who sacrificed themselves. And as our leaders, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and President Macron, will gather in Paris, we will together remember the immense commitment of our nations to peace and stability.
I am deeply grateful that, once again, Thailand and France stand together to recall the past ; more than a hundred years after King Wajirawudh made a couple of powerful decisions. He declared war to the Central powers and led Siam into the Great War. He elevated his country and reinforced Siam’s position toward Western powers. He bolstered democracy and modernized the kingdom thanks to new institutions, like the one that reunites us today and fuels our passion for history : Chulalongkorn University.
Without such a prestigious establishment and the goodwill of the IRASEC, the international conference about Asians in the First World War would not have been possible. And talking about such a great collaboration, I wish to emphasize on our well-established scientific and educational cooperation between France and Thailand. Thanks to our Thai partners for their repeated trust into our universities which allows more than one hundred Thai students to currently study in France under joint scholarships.
While we are all united this morning to attend the keynote lecture of Pr. Xu Guoqi, I wish to add my welcome to all the researchers present at the conference today and tomorrow. Your participations are essential not only to diversify the perspectives, but also to bolster our duty of remembrance.
With 20 countries represented, from Canada to Vietnam, from India to Belgium, this conference thus perpetuates the engagement of many soldiers and workers coming from outside Europe. They were more than 1 700 000 from India, China, Vietnam and Thailand during the Great War. They were often volunteers and they mattered for our victory.
And as we can now only imagine their sacrifices through literature, photographs, and films, I wish to emphasize on the exhibition that opens today. It explores the role of Asians during the Great War and depicts their contributions, mainly thanks to archives from our Defense Ministry. I urge all of you to go and see it.
To conclude, I am delighted about the presence today of my fellow ambassador of Germany. Our joint support to the conference and the participation of researchers from both of our countries show, I believe, the strengths of our academic and scientific cooperation. This partnership also highlights the successes of our common duty of remembrance since 1945 and the clout of the French-German friendship, from Europe to Thailand.
Finally, I see here a foreshadowing symbol of next Sunday’s commemorations when the leaders from Germany, Thailand and France will get together under the Arc de Triomphe, alongside 120 other foreign dignitaries.