Most of the world was first introduced to Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh and its capital city of Band Aceh by the Indian Ocean Tsunami and undersea earthquake of 26 December 2004.
As foreign and Indonesian journalists and humanitarian workers descended upon Banda Aceh in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, television screens around the globe broadcasted images of a city in ruin, reduced to rubble and rotting corpses.
The calamity wrought by the waves was incalculable; more than 160,000 Acehese perished, another 550,000 were internally displaced, and entire villages were washed into the sea.
What the television cameras failed to capture in the wake of the disaster and what journalists were prevented from covering by Indonesian security forces was the armed separatist rebellion in Aceh.
This conflict which since its inception in 1976 had largely isolated Aceh from the rest of Indonesia and claimed some 15,000 to 20,000 lives, persisted unabated in rural parts of Aceh for almost eight months after the tsunami.
It was not until August 2005 that the Indonesian government and armed separatist Free Aceh Movement rebels reached a negotiated settlement in Helsinki that granted Aceh broad self-government within Indonesia.
The chasm between Banda Aceh and many rural parts of Aceh, as well as between Aceh and the rest of Indonesia, has been somewhat mitigated by the Helsinki peace process.
This paper is concerned with the city of Banda Aceh within these broader transformations of Aceh from a theatre of war into a relatively peaceful province under a nascent system of self government in Indonesia.
The paper traces the trajectory of Banda Aceh since 1998, when the initiation of a nationwide process of democratization led reform-minded politicians in Jakarta to look beyond a military solution to Indonesia’s internal conflicts and towards the democratic accommodation of aggrieved ethnic minorities through decentralization.
Results of the study show the following;
few urban environments in recent history have been exposed to as much upheaval as Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh has been flattened by the biggest natural disaster in living memory and subsequently totally rebuilt
proximity to the 2004 tsunami produced divergent geo-histories between individual Acehnese, as did place of residency at the time of the natural disaster, which affected levels of access to post disaster resources
the benefits of decentralization have been felt more strongly by people living in Banda Aceh and other urban centres than by Acehese living in rural or remote areas