In Remembrance: Michael Aris

in the news 8 summer 1999

Dr. Michael V. Aris, the husband of Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, died of prostate cancer in London on March 27, his 53rd birthday.

Dr. Aris earned his Ph.D. in Tibetan Literature in 1978 and was a leading authority on Bhutanese, Tibetan, and Himalayan cultures. He held various academic positions at Oxford University, Harvard, and other institutions and from 1967 to 1973 was private tutor to the Royal Family of Bhutan. During the last stages of his illness, he had made several applications to the Burmese government for permission for a last visit with his wife, but these were denied.

Suu Kyi met Aris in London in the early 1970s while studying at the London School for Oriental Studies and working for the United Nations. They were married in 1972 and have two sons, Alexander and Kim. Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Aung San, returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her dying mother and emerged as head of the pro-democracy movement. Her NLD (National League for Democracy) party won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, which the military still has not recognized. She has spent most of the years since under house arrest, and her husband and sons accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 on her behalf. During her husband’s illness and when he died, Suu Kyi declined the government’s offers for her to travel to England, fearing that it would not allow her safe return to Burma.

A Buddhist ceremony for Aris was held at Suu Kyi’s home seven days after his death. More than 1,000 people attended, including diplomats from the U.S. and Europe. In a statement of appreciation for all who had supported her husband and family during his illness, Suu Kyi said, “I have been so fortunate to have such a wonderful husband, who had always given me the understanding I needed. Nothing can take that from me.”

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