A new formula for the Turkish-Kurdish peace process: learning from South East Asia’s Aceh peace plan

Turkish troops

By Dr. Aland Mizell:

Note: Working Paper – please do not cite

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them.” Everything has a price, especially when it relates to peace, because it always comes at a heavy cost. The greater block to peacemaking is fear. Fear makes us see ourselves as victims. Peace, however, is a constructive effort, one that happens gradually. It takes time and effort to build peace. By contrast, it takes only a second to destroy it, so that it is easy to lose peace, that which has been so hard to build. Embracing peace does not mean that we always avoid problems, but we recognize its real costs and that our loved ones and we will somehow pay those costs. Thus, peacemaking is a process. The world, especially the Kurds and the Turks, needs such a process. To adopt one peace process as a model in solving another conflict or problem that might have some similarities may not work well because every conflict has its own distinctive characteristics that can be useful in conceptualizing a constructive approach, perhaps from lessons gleaned out of other experiences.

Looking at the Philippine government’s peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Aceh Peace Process in Indonesia, a peace advocate may offer some great lessons for the Turkish government, the AKP administration, and the Kurdish people in Turkey. Also, peace is not built overnight, but is a gradual development that will take years and even decades to build and maintain. A peace agreement is not the end but the beginning of a continuing reconciliation, of finding ways to stop the bloodshed,  of addressing the grievances of people, and of discovering meaning to their aspirations. It should not limit the explorations of new ideas and constructive ways but should work as safety nets for the people. It is still too soon to tell if the Helsinki Agreement will be the answer to the Acehnese by putting an end to violence that has gripped the Indonesian province for decades. However, the gains from the implementations of the agreement are indeed encouraging, and the Turkish government can benefit from these experiences.

Background of the Conflict

The Government of the Republic of Indonesia (RI) and Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) had been in a continuous conflict for more than a century since the Dutch invasion in 1873 (Dr. Lingga). The resistance to the Dutch government’s occupation was followed by the Darul Islam rebellion after independence of the Government of Indonesia, and then by the Gerekan Aceh Merdeka nationalistic struggle (GAM) on August 15, 2005.   ict that had claimed more than 15, 000 lives and brought about the displacement of tens of thousands of people.  As of yet, there is no exact data on the damages and destruction that the conflict has caused the Aceh. Some experts argue that the damage done could be more than reported because collecting exact data was nearly impossible during the conflict. Aceh is located in the northern tip of the Sumatra province in the East and the Indian Ocean in the South and the West. The population of Aceh is estimated to be 4.2 million, and 98 % of them are Muslims. The predominant spoken language in Ache is Acehnese, and Bahasa Indonesia is the official language. Because of the geographic importance, which was the gateway to the Malaca Strait, the Western powers took interest in controlling Aceh in 1824. Under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty the Dutch gained control of all British possessions (Dr. Lingga). The resistance to Dutch colonial control lasted from 1873 to 1942. In the United Nations in 1949, the agreement was concluded whereby the Dutch East Indies transferred its sovereignty to a fully independent Indonesia (Aspinall 2005).  The Dutch East Indies ceased to exist on December 27, 1949, and became the Federal Republic of Indonesia, which later became the Republic of Indonesia. The Kingdom of Aceh was included in the agreement, an act seen by the Aceh nationalists as betrayal of their homeland. The discovery of natural gas in 1970s and the development of that gas did not benefit the Acehnese because the labor force was imported from Java and Sumatra. The Aceh region remains undeveloped, and Aceh is considered a special territory, but Aceh still relies on the central government.

In 1976, the Free Aceh Movement, the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) formed. The Government of Indonesia tried to suppress the movement militarily but was unsuccessful and in the process caused massive displacement especially when the military’s heavy artillery attacked GAM bases. In some cases the military forced relocation of civilians and the presence of security forces affected the daily lives of civilians. Further, the military was involved in corruption as well as abuse of the local people. The other tactic placed villagers under martial law and forced them into compulsory night guard duty with many local people being harassed and abused. The end of Suharto’s regime and the election of Abdurrahman Wahid to the Indonesian Presidency opened a new door for peace. In March 1999, the President of Indonesia visited Aceh and apologized for what has been done by the security forces, and ordered releases of political prisoners after his election.  President Wahid initiated dialogue with GAM on January 27, 2000, in Geneva, and the Indonesian Ambassador to the U.N in Geneva met GAM’s Leader Hassan di Trio; that was the beginning of the series of meetings between the government and Aceh rebels. After that several other meetings were held until they agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understand in August 15, 2005. The Government of the Republic of Indonesia (RI) and GAM with the mediation of Finland’s former president Martti Ahtisaari arrived at an agreement to end violence and make peace possible. The importance of the peace process between Aceh and the Government of Indonesia shows the willingness of both sides to compromise and to avoid  zero-sum game positions, but most importantly to provide a constructive solution for dealing with the most difficult Issues such as the quest for independence.

The Memorandum of Understanding represents the first attempt that aims at achieving the comprehensive political solution to the conflict and helps utilize the disarmament, demolition, and reintegration. The Memorandum of Understanding helped, but not fully, a wide range from which to view legal issues, such as governance, Aceh’s status, economic incentives, political participation, human rights, and reconciliation. It helps provide for the mechanism for implementation, including institutional arrangements and a mechanism for dispute settlement The disarmament and demobilization, helps to end the deep seated hostility between the government forces and the Aceh rebels and to build confidence and trust between the two parties. Both sides agree that the GAM will undertake the decommissioning of all arms and explosives held by the participants in GAM activities and the Government of Indonesia   withdraw all elements of non organics military and non organic police forces from the Aceh region.  The Memorandum of Understanding clearly shows a strong willingness from both parties to make compromises. The first compromise related to the question of Aceh’s status within the Republic of Indonesia. The provision contained in the Memorandum of Agreement dealt with the relationship between Aceh and the rest of the country. The form of the relationship clearly serves as a compromise between GAM’s demand for independence on one hand and the existing special autonomous offer by the Government of Indonesia on the other. The second compromise related to the transformation and political participation. The third serves as a compromise between the Government of Indonesia’s earlier demand for GAM’s disbandment and the troops remaining in Aceh with its main responsibility to defend the external defense of the region and exiled Aceh representatives who come to participate in local and national politics.  The fourth compromise set aside the problem of past abuses of human rights, even though the Memorandum of Understanding stipulate that a human right court is to be established in Aceh. This allows both sides to shelf the issue that could otherwise exacerbate the feeling of hostilities and vengeance at the beginning of the peace process. Fifth, the Memorandum of Agreement is creative because it finds some kind of formula to set aside the hard issues, if not make them disappear. It does not explicitly mention that GAM has not officially dropped its demand for independence nor has it disbanded itself. Even though these two issues are not mentioned in the Memorandum of Understanding, which has caused criticism within Indonesia, it helps both parties avoid the most sensitive issues that would reduce the possibility for another division and would prevent the process from pushing forward.

One may legitimately ask whether these changes are necessary to sustain long-term peace and to end the bloodshed. Could the initial success of the Aceh Peace Process serve as a model in solving the Kurdish problems in Turkey?  What is really important is to study the Memorandum of Understand between the Indonesian government and GAM and how the terms and conditions of the MoU were carried out by both parties. The implications of the lessons learned from the Aceh and Indonesian government peace process can be examined in regard to the Kurdish and Turkish peace process. The reasons the Aceh Peace Process is working well and the agreement in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been implemented can be explored for Turkey’s conflict. Because if the political prisoners were released, if the Indonesian government provided economic assistance to former rebels and amnestied political prisoners, if they amended election laws, then perhaps this successful peace process could serve Turkey well as a model. In the Indonesia peace process they allowed the GAM leaders to run for office as independents, to be elected to guide the province, and to focus on the implementation of the Agreement in a role of leadership. Turkey could use the same criteria to bring about peace in its southeastern region.

Dr. Aland Mizell is with the University of Mindanao School of Social Science, President of the MCI and a regular contributor to The Kurdistan Tribune, Kurdishaspect.com and Kurdish Media.You may email the author at:aland_mizell2@hotmail.com 

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