There is a constant stream of news coming out of the conflicts in Burma/Myanmar, and it can get confusing to understand with words that blend together — words like, Rohingya, Burma, Myanmar, Yangon, Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Karen, Karenni, Kachin, Shan … the list goes on.

However, in attempting to understand the longest civil war in modern history, the first step is getting a grasp on the geography. This map is courtesy of the Free Burma Rangers, an organization that has conducted relief operations in Burma for years; explanations to what you’re looking at are further down.

The Central Burmese Powers

The primary government, military and day-to-day infrastructure lies in the central and south-central Burma. Generally speaking, the further you depart from places like Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon, annotated as such here), the further away you drift from the veneer of peaceful southeast Asian society, like you might find in Thailand.

As a tourist, you could fly into Yangon, travel here and there from tourist destination to tourist destination, take a day trip up to Sagaing, and fly back out. Unless you just so happened to stumble across a major conflict in the cities, you would never know what the government was doing out in the jungle.

However, that’s not to say the tension and conflict does not exist in Burmese cities. In 1988 the “8888 Uprising” was a student uprising in Yangon that ended with thousands of civilians killed. Tensions have fluctuated and remained high ever since; the government tries to keep tight control over the media and over those who wish to speak out against them.

The ethnic states, who are usually the subject of violence and conflict, sort of sandwich the Burmese central power areas.