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From Tragedy Springs Peace: The Aceh Story

  • From Disaster to Peace The devastation and urgent need for recovery after a 2004 tsunami led Indonesian leaders and Aceh rebels to quickly make peace, ending a 25-year conflict. Image Credit:

  • From Disaster to Peace Journalist Najiwa Shihab was first on the scene of the tsunami, and later covered the area's recovery. Image Credit:

  • From Disaster to Peace The devastation and urgent need for recovery after a 2004 tsunami led Indonesian leaders and Aceh rebels to quickly make peace, ending a 25-year conflict. Image Credit:

  • From Disaster to Peace Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Image Credit:

From Tragedy Springs Peace: The Aceh Story

The power of forgiveness reveals itself in many forms, none more unexpected than the massive wall of water that brought sudden devastation to the Aceh region of southwest Indonesia in December 2004.

That tragic storm, triggered when earthquakes created a wave that overwhelmed Aceh with virtually no notice, created such a desperate moment that both sides in a two-decade civil war agreed that forgiveness was a smarter course than holding onto old divisions.

The story of the unlikely reconciliation is told in “The Aceh Story: The Hope of Love and Forgiveness,” a 16-minute documentary that weaves together news and historical footage from the conflict and the tsunami disaster with reflective interviews with principals in forging peace.

With the country in crisis from the tsunami and international aide agencies unable to tolerate being in a war zone, "I put the agenda aside," recalls Hamid Awaludin, Indonesia’s Minister of Justice.

The Free Aceh Movement developed as opposition to the distribution of wealth from a natural gas boom in Aceh. Once it started, fighting lasted 25 years and created massive devastation, including the destruction of hundreds of schools.

Indonesian society also was deeply divided by the long conflict, until the tsunami forced a shared moment of reckoning. Aceh, which had long been closed to outside visitors, was opened during the crisis relief and subsequent rebuilding process.

And instead of seeking prosecution or maintaining deportations that had arisen from the long battle, rebels were given blanket amnesty, allowed to return to their homes and a dramatically higher share of natural gas revenues were retained within Aceh.

“I was in shock by what I saw in Aceh. I thought, ‘Why not use another approach,’ “ recalled Indonesian President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono. “An approach of love and care, of heart and mind, and finally forgiveness.”

The peace agreement was “a blessing out of the disaster,” both sides agreed. “In the face of conflict and injustice, forgiveness is an essential expression of love," said filmmaker Imam Prasodjo.

"We felt very touched,” added Malik Mahmud, a longtime separatist leader. “This was the will of God – we had to accept it.”

The documentary is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Governing Professions.