image“EXCUSE me gentlemen, I have been making you wait. I just arrived from Bener Meriah. I had a little bit business,” Iwan Gayo said. He welcomed his guests friendly.

Five men have been waiting for him about an hour. Iwan had invited them to his house at Paya Tumpi, Takengon, Aceh Tengah district. Iwan also asked me to meet them on 7 February 2008.

Iwan clarified why does he invites them, lengthy. His tone is up and down, as well as a preacher in church or mosque. Sometimes he stand up and then back to his chair.

“The demand for ALA extension became our parent motivation, including my father, Abubakar Bintang, head of Indonesia National Party (PNI). Since 1945, they have been struggling for it. However, it never occurred as Aceh was in war, ranging from Dutch to Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement),” Iwan said.

Those five men were listening quietly. They did not interrupt him.

“As head of village, please do tell your population. Tell them that Acehnese people in the hinterland where located in five districts were demanding to establish new province. Therefore, we could take good care of the people. If there come any support, let us together go to Jakarta. We will give our support to the commission II in house of representative (DPR) to signing the law of government of ALA,” he continued.

Iwan showed them sample of a piece of letter from a village headman. It is a form of conformity the head of village to fly to Jakarta. He will also conform to follow sort of constraints, such as not to bring any kind of blades, keep him under control, and … the most important is, ready to sleep in house of representative building as a way to fight the demand.

“I’m joining you. I’m ready,” a guest said.

“Yeah … I agree,” said the man next to him.

“I suggest all of village headman to gather before we go to Jakarta. Some of them have not known yet about our struggle of ALA province establishment. We have to brief them first,” the other village headman interrupted.

Going to Jakarta is not as simple as they thought. Besides its distance, the cost from Aceh to Jakarta is quite expensive.

“We would take some contribution from them, at least five thousand rupiah,” Iwan said.

The supporters of the ALA province establishment had planed they will go to Jakarta on April 2008. It means there are two months remain to take the contribution. Then, Iwan give them donation form.

“Number of contribution should note down as well as the identity,” Iwan continued.

Iwan Gayo is member of Committee of Acceleration of ALA Province Establishment (Komite Percepatan Pembentukan Provinsi ALA). He is a spokesperson of the committee.

This activity had made Iwan back to his village. Prior to join the committee, more than 40 years he lived in Jakarta as a freelance journalist and working in his printing enterprise. He also had known as writer of Buku Pintar, which very famous among students.

Since he became spokesperson, Iwan is very busy. Almost every day he went to one village to another campaigning aims of ALA province establishment and raising villagers endorsement.

Guests have been always coming to his house, journalists, students, government officials, and former member of Free Aceh Movement as well. Probably, that is the reason why some polices escorting around his house.

“We should make them believe that ALA population was endorsing the province establishment,” he told me.

ACEH Leuser Antara or known as ALA consists of five districts, Aceh Tengah, Bener Meriah, Aceh Singkil, Gayo Lues, and Aceh Tenggara.

Besides ALA, Indonesian House of Representative (DPR-RI) submitted the establishment plan of Aceh Barat Selatan province, called ABAS. Its region ranging from Aceh Jaya, Aceh Barat, Nagan Raya, Aceh Barat Daya, Aceh Selatan, Simeulue district.

Although banners of the establishment province demand is used the acronym of ALA-ABAS, initiative of it has protracted historical struggle. It sounds more and more loud recently. The ALA initiators were campaigning through cultural-art performance or mass demonstration.

The name of Aceh Leuser Antara has three meaning. ‘Aceh’ representing geographic landscape, ‘Leuser’ representing three regencies where located in Leuser Mountain National Park, and Antara representing Aceh Tengah and Bener Meriah districts entity.

“Proposal of the province name was changing for few times, but we finally come to ALA name. In the beginning, the name was Galaksi. It is an acronym of Gayo Alas Kuala Simpang Singkil. It changed to GATS with similar acronym to Galaksi. Late, Kuala Simpang or Aceh Tamiang was canceled its membership,” Iwan told me.

On 7 October 2005, Kompas daily reported the demand of ALA province establishment had discussed thoroughly in Brastagi, North Sumatera, during May 2001. Some of prominences, member Indonesian house of representative, and officials of Internal Affairs Department attended the meeting. It was exclusively meeting, as province extension issues were being sensitive. Three years later, the legislators approved the establishment and put into initiative draft of Indonesia parliament. The initiators in five districts held a congress toward ALA establishment on May 2005. They earned Rp 20 billions to financing the new province materialized.

On October 2005, they held mass demonstration in Jakarta. Nearly 500 participants who lived outside Aceh demanded the government to extent Aceh province region.

“ALA establishment initiative had been discussed since Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia. It examined during his successor, Megawati Soekarno Putri. Then we hope it will establish in early times of the next president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,” Rahmat Salam said as quoted Kompas daily. At that time, he was head of Committee of Acceleration of ALA Province Establishment.

Muhammad Ma’ruf, former of internal affairs ministry, said the extension demand is normal aspiration. However, he considered it is not a legislation priority, since Government of Indonesia were conducting peace accord with GAM. At the same time, Aceh were having reconstruction and rehabilitation of post tsunami disaster.

Eventually, board of the committee had to give way toward the minister reasons.

“During the meeting in my house in Jakarta, the board of committee agreed to let the extension initiative settle for a moment. We did not want to bother the government focus on peace signing process and Aceh recovery after the disaster,” Iwan said.

When Aceh has secured and headed under new governor, the demand to establish ALA province showed back. As Serambi Indonesia daily reported on 23 January 2008, the establishment of new province in Aceh was recommended by legislators during its plenary. It will examine simultaneously with 21 new regional administrative initiatives within Indonesia.

“Then, the committee members were joining back together. We will escort the parliament to examine Aceh’s new province establishment,” Iwan said.

MUHAMMAD YUSUF was remembering the lively of Takengon city on September 2006. Many guests from abroad were visiting the city. Officials, religious scholars, students, and villagers came together brightening up the city. Most of the city corners were raising street banners and billboards. Takengon was having a big party. During four days, people of the city were rousing cultural art performances and discussions toward ALA province establishment.

“(At that time) Rooms of all hotels in the city was full,” he remembered.

He was part timer worker at Gayo Land hotel, the place where I stayed for several days during my visit to the city early February 2008. He would have worked in his parent farm in the morning prior to working at the hotel from mid noon until nightfall. It is small hotel, Yusuf worked as servant and guard as well.

He was also engaged the extension discourse as well as other residents. While he was not serving the guests, he would read newspaper. Sometime, he also eavesdrops to the official guests chatted. The issues are similar, ranging from the province establishment chances to political positions.

“Do you think ALA province will establish?” he asked me.

“I can not answer your question. Sorry.”

Yusuf was silent, then. His eyes examined the canopy. He smoked his cigarette deeply.

“No matter what the story goes, as long as we were joining together with the coastal population, we as the hinterland people will have no chance to be a leader in Banda Aceh. Our relationship is like water and oil,” Yusuf said.

The Gayonese and its neighbor use the terms of ‘coastal’ to called ‘Acehnese’ or the population who lived near to the ocean. It is to identify themselves as hinterland population. The coastal and hinterland terms are not merely geographic, but politic as well.

Yusuf remembered when ‘the coastal’ blockade the main road Takengon – Bireuen since ‘the hinterland’ did not support the referendum of Aceh toward the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI) during 1999. As the result, ‘the hinterland’ was difficult to seek its livelihood in Banda Aceh. Goods and staples supplies were being difficult, it had to supply from Medan.

“Goods were very expensive. Gasoline price is breach to Rp 10,000 per liter.”

Yusuf born and grew in Simpang Tritit, a small village in Bener Meriah district. There are many Acehnese, as outsider. In associate, he spoke Bahasa or Gayo language. However, to be close to the Acehnese, he pushes himself to learn and speak Aceh. According to him, Acehnese are seldom to speak Bahasa.

That is why he comes to conclusion, that the new province establishment is the answer. He gave a metaphor for it that is similar with a family institution.

“If there are five or more children in a family, its parent attention must be divided. The parent would have to work hard making a living. Well, if one of the children decided to separate, maybe he wants to go abroad, it will reduce the parent’s burden. The kid will relieved, try to be autonomous and make less the parent’s burden.”

Subur who had a coffee shop near the hotel, considered imbalance of development had raising the demand of new province establishment. Above all, Acehnese or coastal population is dominating Aceh government and it bureaucracy.

“Aceh province should act as if as Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Indonesia Miniatur Garden). Varieties of ethnic should put into one place, embraced. The bureaucracy, at least, should be like that,” Subur told me.

IRWANDI Yusuf, governor of Aceh, was protesting house of representative of Indonesia intention to divide Aceh region. His comments were published in many local media. He considered the intention was part of Jakarta’s politicians joke. He resolved there would be no extension of Aceh province as long as he governing Aceh. He already sent a letter to the president, head of Indonesia parliament, and forwarded to mayors and municipals in Aceh. It contains of his repudiation against the establishment.

According to Helsinki peace accord, point 1.1.4, Aceh region is base on Law of Regional Autonomy of Atjeh Province Number 24/ 1965. It is clarified by article 3 Law of Government of Aceh (LoGA) Number 11/ 2006. Its boundaries are Malacca Strait in north and east, North Sumatra province in south, and Hindia Ocean in west side.

Article 8 point 2 of LoGA insisted that Indonesia parliament could not compiling law for any reason. Everything that interconnected to government of Aceh must have consulted with and judgment from Aceh parliament.

If Indonesia parliament continued to examine the recommendation of Aceh extension, it will damage peace of Aceh. GAM had threat that they will send notify to European Union and the Helsinki accord stakeholders.

I phoned Nasir Jamil on 12 February 2008. He is a legislator, who joins Government Commission in Indonesia parliament where the issue examined. He is Acehnese and a member of Justice and Prosperous Party.

“The extension is also part of aspiration. The parliament should listen for it,” Jamil said.

“The chance is open if there is a letter from the president,” he continued.

According to legislate administration of Indonesia parliament, prior to the president released a mandate; a legislation could not be examine. This mandate would turn as reference for ministers to examine a law together with legislators.

Nasir opposed if extension of Aceh and divided into provinces would have broke the Helsinki accord.

“The accord was only prevailing between GAM and Indonesia government. It was not international treaty since there is no parliament agreement. Therefore, it could not be taken as legal base to administer Indonesia’s internal affairs, including Aceh.”

However, Nasir did not give clear answer whether he agree toward the establishment of new province in Aceh or not.

But then, he promptly reply, “It is issues of elites. Money and political interest are very clear in this issue. If there is a new province, there will be a new governor, legislators, and positions in the bureaucracy. However, the good answer is accelerating the development which reaching all of Aceh region. People only concern whether they could work well.”

Sayed Fuad Zakaria, head of Aceh parliament, also refused to answer my inquiry on regional extension of Aceh, whereas his institution would have power for it, whether the regional extension would be happen or not.

“I prefer to silent. This issue is very sensitive,” he said. He did not point out what does the word ‘sensitive’ that he meant. He dropped of the phone, ended my interview.

IWAN Gayo’s workroom has loaded up with piles of ALA maps as size as poster. The map was filling with calendar 2008. The contributors and donors who support ALA establishment will receive it as vote of thanks.

“It is an instrument of campaign as well. We glued at houses, village offices therefore our grand children will acknowledge ALA’s region,” Iwan said while his spreading the map out.

“It is really, really located right in the heart of Aceh,” said Muhammad Yusuf, the servant of Gayo Land Hotel, to me after he saw ALA’s map.

The ALA’s geographic position is in the middle of Aceh region and its width nearly a third of Aceh. It spread out from Aceh Tengah district in north to Aceh Tenggara district in south. The edge boundaries signed in blue color strip lines.

The symbol and slogan printed in right corner above the map. If Aceh acknowledged as Serambi Mekkah (Verandah of Mecca), ALA’s slogan is Serambi Madinah (Verandah of Medina). The symbol is representing five characteristic of each district that join in ALA province. A carved of “Kerawang” from Gayo, a polygon symbol from Gayo Luwes, a fish symbol from Aceh Tenggara and Aceh Singkil, and the last, a tower of ‘rimba raya’ (vast jungle) from Bener Meriah.

“I made the map. I traveled around Aceh for one and a half years to mapping ALA’s region digitally using GPS. However, I did not go everyday,” Iwan told me.

GPS (Global Positioning System) is satellite navigation system. Military used this technology to identify its enemy position. The satellites will feedback by sending precise position; longitude degree and latitude, axes, and heights of the region. This technology could also record the temperature even in small scale. The GPS usage to compose a map could replace the old methods since it will result precisely map.

I look thoroughly to the ALA’s map. Obviously, there are seven points of area that claimed as part of ALA’s region where located in Aceh Timur. There are Tanah Merah, Sejudu, Penarun, Bunih, Rampah, and Lokop Serbejadi. Are those Aceh Timur sub-district parts of ALA’s province? I am wondering.

“What is your reference to compile ALA’s map?” I asked Iwan.

“Besides geographic factors in five districts, I used ethnographic referential. Gayo is main referential. Wherever Gayonese majority lived in, it included to ALA’s region,” Iwan replied.

“Somebody who has objections could please to charge. I’m ready for it,” he added.

The geographic boundaries that showed in the map have also describing equal identity and destiny among ALA’s districts member.

“The ethnics which lived in ALA are minority in Aceh region. We lived in upland and hinterland as well,” he continued.

According to Perang Gayo Alas Melawan Kolonialisme Belanda (The Gayo War against Dutch Colonialism), book that written by M.H. Gayo and published by Balai Pustaka in 1983, Gayo ethnic group is one of variety population that inhabited Aceh province. They lived in the upland of Bukit Barisan mountain group at the north-edge of Sumatra Island. Administratively, it spread in Aceh Tengah, Bener Meriah, Gayo Lues, and small number was living in Aceh Timur district.

Major population in Aceh Tenggara district is Alas ethnic groups. It has close similarity to Karo and Batak ethnic descendant. While major ethnic group in Aceh Singkil district is Singkil and Batak Phak-Phak ethnic groups.

On the other hand, according to its history, different kind of foreign ethnic groups inhabited coastal Aceh populations, for example Arabs, India, Chinese, Portuguese, and Tamils. Its historical tracks were remaining in Aceh Besar, Pidie, Bireuen, and Aceh Utara district.

The indigenous people has sophisticate figure, language, and culture compare to coastal population ethnic groups. However, they share similarity in religion, Islam.

“So, if somebody asked who the native of Aceh is, we are. We had resemblances to Aborigin in Australia continent. We are marginalizing,” Iwan said.

Aceh government was focusing infrastructure development such as electricity and roads, in the coastal region. Its roads and electricity were in perfect condition compare to hinterland infrastructures. Its gap is as different as heaven and earth.

“After a year of Irwandi Yusuf governing Aceh, the roads remain damage,” Iwan said.

I guess it is not definitely fair. Irwandi were just governing for a year. The head of each district or regent must responsible for this, mustn’t he?

“But look, how many times did Irwandi come to see people in hinterland region? Particularly to visit us who lived in the highland. Since Aceh is very wide, we ask to separate,” Iwan continued.

“Please could you tell me whether any articles in LoGA that point out ‘the extension of Aceh region is forbidden’. LoGA should obey the highest rule in this country. The level of LoGA is not as high as other law, for example the law of local extension,” he said, louder.

I looked his face was straining.

“Remember … Aceh isn’t being a free country yet! We are being the part of NKRI. When we asked to establish a new province, it is legal and it’s our right!”

Helsinki accord, Iwan argued, was not representing all of Aceh’s people aspiration. It was prevailing for the coastal people who supporting GAM.

“Then, why we could not be autonomous, whereas we are indeed part of the NKRI, we never resist against the state?”

Iwan felt disappoint when Aceh government was dominated by coastal people.

“The government was dominated by Arabs, India, Campa, Keling, Tamil. Please check in the governor office, how many Gayonese there. Is it caused of we are incapable to be a leader? In Java, many Gayonese were being a leader. I’m sorry, our ancestor used to be a leader of the coast.”

C. Snouck Hurgronje, Dutch colonial adviser, wrote a book on Gayo ancestor that known as “muyang siwah datu pitu” or nine ancestors seven headman. The title of the book that already translated to Bahasa is Het Gajoland en zijine Bewoners or Gayo, Society and Its Culture in Early 20th century. Two of the famous headmen in the book are Merah Mege and Merah Silu, the Linge King descendant who ruled the Gayo land at that time. Merah Silu was jealous since his father loved Merah Mege more. Merah Silu became a king in Islam Pase Kingdom, then. His title is Sultan Malikussaleh.

“We used to feed the coastal people during the war against Dutch. When Panglima Polem and Cut Nyak Dhien was forced to Gayo. They sheltered there.”

In the book of Perang Gayo Alas Melawan Kolonialisme Belanda stated that, Gayonese was fighting against Dutch and raising their properties to buy weaponry. The mountainous regions of Gayo and Alas became last fortress for fighters of the Aceh War. Tuanku Muhammad Daud, Aceh Sultan, went to Gayo in 1901. Panglima Polem went to Ketol Gayo in 1901 to 1902 after the Dutch troops forced his soldiers in Aceh Utara. Cut Nyak Dhien went earlier, she stayed in Celala village, Takengon, during 1900 to 1901 after her husband, Teuku Umar, died in Meulaboh, Aceh Barat.

I have read an article in Serambi Indonesia daily in early February 2008. The Gayonese and Acehnese relation is symbolized of two flowers. Renggali flower is a symbol of Gayonese, while Seulanga flower for Acehnese. Two of them could blossomed in Aceh lands. Those flower symbol were being changed to folk song lyric in Gayo land. “Renggali megah i Bireuen, i Takengon bunge Seulanga.” It means, Renggali flower blossomed in Bireuen (Aceh), while in Takengon (Gayo) is Seulanga.

Hmm.. I am wondering to see those both of flowers.

HUSNI Jalil knows better the proverb of “the tail is following the head” when Governor Irwandi Yusuf asked his opinion on people aspiration of ALA province establishment.

“What do say about the extension demand?” Irwandi asked.

“What about your opinion?” he replied with question.

“I am your senior while we’re in AMM (Aceh Monitoring Mission). You used to be my staff in the district. You must obey what has written down in the Helsinki accord. Do not give any comment,” Irwandi insisted.

Husni Jalil is Gayonese. During conflict times in Aceh, he was a governor of GAM in Linge region, now Aceh Tengah and Bener Meriah district. After Helsinki accord is signed, he become member of Aceh Monitoring Mission to monitor the agreement implementation. He was member of Irwandi Yusuf campaigning team during the local election in December 2006.

“Until now, Bang (big brother) Irwandi still phones me. Sometime he asked me to meet him in Banda (Aceh). Every time he asked about Aceh Tengah, I always gave him views and recommendation,” Husni told me.

Their relationship has leaded them to a vision on provincial extension in Aceh.

“No problem. It is part of democracy. However, we are committed to the Helsinki accord. It means, some elites who demand regional extension are not happy to the peace accord. They are provocateurs who want to break the peace in Aceh,” Husni explained.

The provincial extension, he argued, was not Aceh government focus. It is more important to bring back community livelihood, victims of conflict and natural disaster.

“GAM already had a province. I am the governor of GAM in Linge’s region. But I haven’t had the office yet,” he said, smiled.

Husni was associating the “governor” position as Hasan Muhammad di Tiro (Hasan Tiro), GAM declarator, promised it. Each of the regions in Aceh would have leaded by a governor under Tiro’s rule. He was being head of the state, Aceh highest leader.

Husni said, Helsinki accord would have ended after the general election which followed by Aceh local parties is held. Then, he continued, we would examine the provincial extension. If central government continued to approve the provincial extension before the election, that is similar to playing Aceh people against another.

“When the accord ended, we would have demanded (position) Aceh’s elites. Where the province that ‘wali nanggroe’ (Hasan Tiro) has been promising. The guerillas have been fighting and turning down from the jungle. So, we have no business to the central government. If they were forcing to establish new province in Aceh now, that showed they hate GAM struggle,” Husni pointed to the ALA’s initiators.

His loyality toward GAM struggle was thickening. He was coordinating his member monitoring the ALA’s establishment campaign in each village.

“We haven’t making any move yet. We just keep silence for a while. If we, all of KPA (Aceh Transition Committee) member held mass demonstration in Banda Aceh, the story would be different,” Husni said.

“However, if they resolved to establish an ALA province, they must defeat GAM combatants in Aceh Tengah and Bener Meriah districts. Killed us first, so that would not considered as breaking the peace accord. However, since we are tight up with the accord, they should invite us to join,” Husni continued.

He also articulated his attitudes and the similar statement when he met the ALA’s establishment iniators, including Iwan Gayo and Tagore Abubakar, mayor of Bener Meriah district.

“If the central government approved ALA establishment there will be a chaos. The war could have not be avoided. It will be bigger than the last!” Husni insisted.

*) Hairul Anwar is Pantau Aceh Feature Service contributor in Aceh.

**) Translated by Samiaji Bintang.