The Khmer Rouge was a revolutionary national-communist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The name "Khmer Rouge" means "Red Khmer" in French. Coined by Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk it was later adopted by English langauge journalists to refer to what became the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and later the Party of Democratic Kampuchea. Other names include the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the Khmer Communist Party and the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea. Most Cambodians simply referred to tias Angkar or "the Organization." The movement leadership was so secretive and held state power for too brief a period to institutionalize even its name and translation itno foreign languages.
Although dwarfed by the tens of millions killed in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, in the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong, in Nazi Germany under Adolph Hitler, or in the Congo Free State under Leopold II, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot were still one of the more lethal regimes of the last two centuries. The Khmer Rouge are responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people or 20% of the population of Cambodia through execution and famine. That is approximately the same number who died because of the deliberate inaction of British Indian colonial authorities during the Great Bengal Famine of 1943.
The Khmer Rouge killed many ethnic Khmer, but the first victims on their list were the major minorites, including the ethnic Vietnamese, Sino-Khmer and the Cham. The genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese actually began under the previous government of Lon Nol, a rightist miltiary dictator who seized power at the urging of the U.S. CIA.
The Khmer Rouge were able to seize power in late 1975 because a vast army of Cambodian peasants were made available for recruitment by the massive U.S. aerial bombardment of the country, that intensified after the fall of Saigon.
The newly victorious communist government of Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 and toppled the Khmer Rouge from power. Thereafter, the United States, Thailand and People's Republic of China shamefully continued to support the Khmer Rouge representative as the legitimate representative for the country at the United Nations.