x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The ordinary life of political icon Aung San Suu Kyi

Photo Essay The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest one year ago this month. We share intimate scenes of the family life she sacrificed for the freedom of her people.

Suu Kyi with sons Kim (left) and Alexander at the Nara Deer Park in Japan in 1985.
Suu Kyi with sons Kim (left) and Alexander at the Nara Deer Park in Japan in 1985.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been a global symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression since her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election in Burma, now renamed Myanmar by the military government that first seized control in 1962.

Born in Rangoon (now named Yangon) in 1945, Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, a national hero who founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated independence from the British in 1947. He was assassinated by his political rivals when Suu Kyi was just 2. Her mother served as Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal.

Suu Kyi completed her education at St Hugh's College, Oxford, where she met her husband, Michael Aris, an authority on Tibetan, Himalayan and Bhutanese culture. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim.

In 1988 Suu Kyi returned to Burma from England to care for her ailing mother, a visit that coincided with the brutal suppression of a pro-democracy uprising. "I could not, as my father's daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on," she said in Rangoon in 1988. She stayed on to lead the National League. Her party won over 80 per cent of the vote, but the junta annulled the results.

Her political obligations meant the end of her family life. Her husband's visit to her in 1995 was his last and they never saw each other again. Despite the fact that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the authorities would not grant him a visa to see his wife. Suu Kyi feared that if she left the country she would never be allowed back in.

Aris died on his 53rd birthday in 1999, having seen his wife only five times since she was placed under house arrest in 1989, a punishment that was lifted only last November. Suu Kyi remains separated from her sons, who live in the UK.

Often referred to as Burma's Nelson Mandela, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 "for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights". She has won millions of supporters with her elegant determination, bravery and charisma, as well as her habit of wearing flowers in her hair and the sound of her piano playing from her home during all the years of house arrest.

This six-page photo essay presented by Getty Images celebrates a new film based on Suu Kyi's life called The Lady, directed by the French writer and director Luc Besson, as well as a new biography about her called The Lady and the Peacock to be published this month. Getty Images's payment for the photo essay will go to Suu Kyi's family.