Aung San Suu Kyi, who had lived abroad for decades, was in Yangon visiting her sick mother in 1988 when huge protests erupted against Myanmar’s military dictatorship. Moved, she joined those pushing for democratic reforms.
“I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on,” she said in an August 1988 speech.
Her father was General Aung San, who fought for independence from Britain. Following in his footsteps, she quickly emerged as a pro-democracy leader. But the military cracked down on the protests, and, in 1989, they arrested Suu Kyi.
For the next 15 years, as they held her under house arrest, she continued calling for democratic reforms. Over time, she became an international icon for peaceful protest, and, in 1991, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.
After releasing Suu Kyi in 2010, the military agreed to a power-sharing agreement in 2011. Suu Kyi became the country’s civilian leader. But her reputation greatly suffered with her defense of the military’s deadly campaign against the Rohingya in 2017. After the 2021 coup, she was again arrested. She was quickly tried and convicted, and remains behind bars.
“She is the only person who could stand up to the military,” says U Aung Kyaw, a 73-year-old retired teacher, about Suu Kyi. “We would all have voted for her forever, but today is the saddest day of my life because she is gone again.”