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191 Perspectives on the Politics of Peace in Aceh, Indonesia Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good and Byron J. Good Stanley Tambiah laments in Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in Southeast Asia (1996), “something has gone awry in center-periphery relations throughout the world.” Identifying widespread ethnic conflicts as characteristically “amongst enemies intimately known,” noting “the internationalization of the technology of destruction” and “ethnonationalism,” Tambiah evokes an overwhelming “disillusionment of our epoch,” of “our contemporary world suffused by violence” (1996a, 3–11). His impassioned 1986 monograph on Sri Lanka and ethnic fratricide between dominant Sinhalese and minority Tamils details the escalating “dismantling of democracy” in postcolonial Sri Lanka and the ill-fated demise of the British colonial legacy of governmental institutions and ideologies of tolerance (Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy, 1986).At the time of writing this essay,armed conflicts between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers continued, and civilian casualties and insecurities of daily life were all too common (Sengupta 2008a and 2008b; Associated Press 2008). The nation’s bellicose military and political leaders (“two brothers”) were “aggressively F5920.indb 191 F5920.indb 191 12/17/12 3:00:46 PM 12/17/12 3:00:46 PM 192 Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good and Byron J. Good [seeking] to end the quarter-century-long ethnic conflict by crushing the Tamil Tigers militarily” (Sengupta 2008a). In 2009, the Tamil Tigers conceded defeat and the civil war was declared to be over. Tambiah’s studies of the painful national crisis afflicting contemporary Sri Lanka and ethnonationalist conflicts around the world resonate with our own efforts to understand and respond to the “remainders of violence” associated with the generational conflict in the province of Aceh,Indonesia,a region long “suffused with violence” in which center-periphery relations have “gone awry.” Anthony Reid, a noted historian of Indonesia,titled his 2006 edited collection onAceh Verandah of Violence, a word play on Aceh’s historical role over centuries as the veranda of the journey to Mecca for Muslim Hajj pilgrims from Southeast Asia and China, and on the worldwide reputation of the Acehnese for fierceness and military prowess (Reid 1995).A province of over 4 million people at the northern tip of Sumatra, part of a nation whose population of 245 million makes it the world’s fourth most populous, Aceh holds symbolic potency in the Indonesian nationalist imagination as the first province to declare independence in 1945.Aceh’s separatist impulses, referenced below, are anathema to Indonesia’s national political leadership. But Aceh is also a reminder that sites of conflict may, at some moment in history, also become laboratories for reworking centerperiphery relations in society. On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami wrought devastation in both Sri Lanka and Aceh. In Sri Lanka, 36,000 persons were killed and an estimated 1 million people displaced along the island’s coast,with Tamil regions hit hardest and Sinhalese communities widely affected (Jayasinghe 2006). In Aceh, an estimated 130,000 to 168,000 people were killed, with over 400,000 persons displaced (Borrero et al. 2006). However, while the tsunami and humanitarian interventions seem to have exacerbated the conflict in Sri Lanka, in Aceh they pushed forward a peace process , already underway but with a far from certain outcome, to a final agreement between the Government of Indonesia and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement), or GAM, signed in Helsinki on August 15, 2005, just over seven months after the tsunami. More than that, they launched a peace process which has become an important site for exploring new forms of center-periphery relations in Indonesia. How then do crises, such as natural disasters or conflicts, and a society ’s accommodation to humanitarian responses, reveal larger soF5920 .indb 192 F5920.indb 192 12/17/12 3:00:46 PM 12/17/12 3:00:46 PM The Politics of Peace in Aceh, Indonesia 193 cial and political forces usually hidden from view? (See Fassin and Vasquez 2005 on the 1999 Venezuelan disaster.) In the Indonesian case, what do the responses to the tsunami by the central government and provincial authorities and the evolution of the peace process in Aceh,both of which developed in interaction with the global humanitarian “apparatus,” tell us about the reshaping of relations between Indonesia’s political center and its peripheries? In our conversations with Stanley Tambiah—our...


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