The land’s original settlers, the Mon, were pushed out of the lowlands by the arrival of the Bamar from the Tibetan Plateau during the 9th century. King Anawrahta established his court in Bagan in 1044 and declared Theravada Buddhism as his kingdom’s official religion, founding an era of great architectural, religious and artistic achievement.
When fighting between warring Burmese kingdoms touched on Bengal in the 19th century, the British moved in, taking Myanmar as a colony. Japanese forces invaded in WWII and at the end of the war, Myanmar was left under the leadership of the freedom-fighter Aung San, who was assassinated along with most of his cabinet in 1947. The country declared independence in 1948, although fighting between different ethnic groups continued.
Following a left-wing army coup in 1962, General Ne Win set the nation on a socialist course that proved economically devastating. Popular discontent erupted into huge demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. In 1988, a military junta seized power in Yangon, and changed the country’s name to Myanmar in 1989. Elections were held in May 1990 where the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. But the military, or SLORC, refused to recognize the election results and placed the leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Recent changes in Myanmar have awakened international attention to this once-ostracized Southeast Asian nation. These changes include the release from house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Syu Kyi in 2011, her subsequent election to parliament, the visits of leading politicians from the US, UK and Europe, the dropping of many international sanctions and a renewed increase in tourism.