An Interview with Pak Imam Aziz, Program Coordinator, Syarikat
When did you first become aware of the conflict against communists in Indonesia?
When I was a child, my father used to open up our house every morning for all of our neighbours, including those involved in the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), to attend a religious study circle (pengajian). I realised that there was a problem when some members of the group threatened my father for inviting PKI people into our home.
When I was a student at the State Institute for Islamic Studies Yogyakarta in 1982, I wrote an article entitled ‘I want to study communism’. Some students from Gadjah Mada University grabbed me and argued vehemently with me about what I had written.
In about the same year, I joined a Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) youth forum in Jakarta. I was very curious about what had happened to the victims of the 1966 violence (Korban 1966). The mass violence of 1966 saw up to one million PKI members and affiliates murdered, injured, and dispossessed. So I asked a very short and simple question at the forum about why NU was not doing anything for the victims. A very well known NU member told me very quickly that this was not an important question.
In 1997 I became the head of NU’s research and development branch, LAKPESDAM, Yogyakarta. Part of our program included Human Rights training through our grassroots network of Islamic boarding schools (pesantren). When Suharto stepped down, we set up ad hoc pesantren committees, one of which looked at the issue of 1966. All members of the committee ran their own activities, and gained support and solidarity from the group. This committee was formalised in 2000 to become the non-government organisation Syarikat.
What has Syarikat done for the Korban 1966?
Syarikat has been investigating the massacres and other human rights violations of 1966 in order to start the reconciliation process. This process mostly involves NU, given that it was NU youth who perpetrated much of the violence, and the Korban 1966. The results of these investigations and other activities have been published in the magazine RUAS.
How was the reconciliation process received within NU?
Initially, getting the issue recognised within NU was very difficult as some kyai (Muslim scholars/community leaders) argued that it was an old issue, and did not need to be brought up again. Others argued that to bring it up could cause problems. But I pushed on as I thought we had to deal with the issue as an organisation or else we would be haunted by it forever.
I brought together some of the more supportive kyai, and we held meetings in almost all of the major cities of Java — Bandung, Semarang, Jepara, Surabaya, Probolinggo, etc. These kyai some of whom were still very wary of tackling the issue, and still maintained their own prejudices against communism, committed themselves to undertaking activities within their networks. Some of them were inspired by personal experiences to join in. For example, one kyai had a household assistant (pembantu) who was the daughter of a murdered PKI member.
Firstly, meetings between NU members and Korban 1966 were held in many major cities. The aim of these meetings was to clarify different versions of the events of 1966. This was done in order to produce a unified understanding of what exactly happened in each area. Much documentation has been collected, verified, and signed by former PKI members and affiliates and kyai at the city level. This has been a very important step in the reconciliation process — actually acknowledging just what happened to all those people in 1966.
From this developed a Memorandum of Understanding which acknowledged that (1) what occurred in 1966 was a national tragedy; (2) there was a need to rehabilitate the reputation of all those involved; (3) socio-political rights of Korban 1966 needed to be addressed; and (4) this sort of violence should never be repeated.
Secondly, kyai involved in the city meetings inviting the Korban 1966 to attend provincial level meetings in May 2003. All kyai on provincial level NU Boards attended these meetings, despite the fact that in at least one case, the kyai were threatened by Indonesian security forces and warned not to attend these meetings.
In East and Central Java, kyai from the Religious Boards of NU formally opened provincial level reconciliation proceedings, and spent an entire day listening to the stories of Korban 1966. At the end of the day, they asked for forgiveness of the perpetrators of the violence in 1966, and in particular the NU youth that were responsible for many attacks. They also presided over a formal closing ceremony.
In East Java, kyai have come under more pressure from elements within the government not to go through this process. However, certain kyai have, as individuals rather than members of the NU Board, attended city level reconciliation meetings. One particular kyai from Pesantren Langitan in Tuban has been very active. He still remembers the murders carried out by NU members in 1966. His pesantren actually sheltered PKI members, so he is very supportive of the reconciliation process.
One of my proudest moments in the reconciliation campaign was when former President Abdurrahman Wahid, then Chairman of NU, asked the Korban 1966 to forgive the misdeeds of NU members in the past.
What reconciliation programs have led from these proceedings?
The reconciliation process has involved community level reconciliation activities. In Blitar, NU members are working with Korban 1966 on a clean water project. Many of the Korban 1966 and their descendants have not been allowed to work due to discriminatory laws, and thus live in very poor, arid areas. Kyai have overseen the fixing and building of water pipes from their land to these arid areas. These kyai have also provided free health tests and services to Korban 1966.
In Salatiga, NU has provided capital for Korban 1966 to set up small enterprises such as mechanics’ workshops (bengkel). In Yogyakarta, NU alternative medical services, such as acupuncture and massage therapy, have been made freely available to Korban 1966. Theatre and other arts events have been put on for Korban 1966 and their families. In Semarang, loans have been made available for Korban 1966 so that they can set up various kinds of cooperatives.
How have you disseminated your findings to other audiences besides NU members?
Many stories and activities have been publicised in RUAS, the magazine that Syarikat has been publishing about the reconciliation process. RUAS receives contributions from many organisations throughout Indonesia that are involved in reconciliation activities. We run stories from witnesses of events of 1966, and from the victims of violence and disempowerment. I have been astounded at the openness of some of these stories.
I have also been very surprised at the positive response RUAS has received. We have found photocopies of the magazine in many regions where we simply could not supply enough copies of RUAS to meet the demand. We have even had to change the format of the magazine, which used to have photos set across double pages, to accommodate demands to make it more photocopy-friendly! We get many supportive letters from all over Indonesia, from Kalimantan, to West Sumatra, to North Sulawesi.
Who else has been involved in the reconciliation process besides NU?
The program has really snowballed, and we have been very successful in getting Muhammadiyah and other groups involved, including the mass media. Groups, such as CordAid, are also doing some fantastic work that should be published. They are providing trauma counselling for the women who were victims (directly or indirectly) of the violence of 1966. But there is still a lot of work to be done.
What else would you like to see happen in the reconciliation process?
Syarikat think that it would be very important for national reconciliation if we could publish a compilation of the stories we have collected during our investigation of the events of 1966. We have enough source material for a monograph for each regional”area. The similarities and differences in these stories are very interesting, and would be of value to many others in the reconciliation process.
We would like to see an end to the discriminatory laws against former Communist Party members. We have come up against a real lack of leadership on the issue of overturning the ban on communism. Members of Parliament recognise the need to address the issue of 1966, and keep saying that they are not ‘anti-communist’, but they have not been willing to change the legislation that discriminates against former PKI members and their families. They still ban Communism in Indonesia. This is discrimination, even though discrimination is both illegal and unjust.
I would also like to see more progress in the settling of land rights for Korban 1966, many of whom lost all their belongings after 1966. Syarikat would like to run a Human Rights campaign to deal with some of these issues in more detail. We have just produced our 12th and final edition of RUAS. There is still so much to do, and so much to write about, but we have run out of funding for our magazine.
Chloe Olliver (firstname.lastname@example.org) was a Volunteer at the State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta during 2001–2002. To assist in financing RUAS, contact M. Imam Aziz at email@example.com