Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Life as a guerilla warrior

‘While I was asleep the men cut the trees to make clearance to establish our first camp. They picked up a place adjacent to a clear spring where they established two houses, one long, for themselves, and adjacent to it a special one. smaller, for my residence . For the roofs and walls they used black or green heavy and thick plastic tissues which come very handy, in the old time our fathers had to work several days just to make roofs for their guerilla camps out of cut grass. In two days we have functional houses in the midst of the forests complete with running water! We named this Camp Panton Weng. So I begin my new life as a guerilla warrior - picking up a long family tradition! ’ This is Hasan di Tiro, the self-appointed leader of a movement to bring independence to Aceh (in northern Sumatra), writing in the diary he kept during his active years as a rebel. He lived in exile for much of his later life, but had returned to Aceh not long before his death, 10 years ago today.

Hasan Bin Leube Muhammad (later known as Hasan di Tiro) was born in the village of Tiro, in Aceh (historically also known as Acheh), north of Sumatra (then part of the Dutch East Indies) in 1925. His great grandfather, Tengku Cik di Tiro, was an Indonesian national hero killed fighting the Dutch in 1891. He received a good education, and by the age of 20 was a socialist youth leader, identifying Aceh’s history with the Indonesian national struggle. He continued his studies in Yogyakarta (Java), where he authored two political books, and then in the US. There, he worked part time for the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations. But, while a student in New York in 1953, he declared himself ‘foreign minister’ of the rebellious Darul Islam movement (a group fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia). He was stripped of his Indonesian citizenship, arrested by the US authorities as an illegal alien, and imprisoned on Ellis Island. The Darul Islam rebellion in Aceh ended with a peace deal in 1962, Aceh receiving some nominal autonomy.

Di Tiro re-appeared in Aceh in 1974, where, after some personal disappointments (family and work), he began organising a separatist movement using his old Darul Islam contacts. On 4 December 1976, he launched the Aceh Sumatra National Liberation Front, better known as the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM). Its goal was total independence of Aceh from Indonesia, reflecting its pre-colonial history as an independent state; its principal military activities involved guerrilla attacks against Indonesian soldiers and police. After an attack in 1977 in which an American was killed and two other foreigners injured, di Tiro was hunted down. After being shot in the leg, he fled to Malaysia. From 1980, he lived in Sweden, and gained Swedish citizenship. After the devastating tsunami that hit Aceh in 2004, GAM and the Indonesian government signed a peace treaty giving Aceh expanded autonomy. In 2008, after 30 years of exile, di Tiro returned to Aceh. On 2 June 2010 he regained his Indonesian citizenship - a day later he died. A little further information is available online at Wikipedia.

During the height of his guerrilla activities as leader of GAM, from September 1976 to March 1979, di Tiro kept a diary. It was published by GAM in 1984 as The Price of Freedom: The unfinished diary of Tengku Hasan di Tiro. Here are a few paragraphs from a review of the book, published in late 1984, as found in Crescent International.

‘Hardly any books - sympathetic to the Achehnese cause- exist on the stark realities of this bloody war that has raged at regular intervals. The sacrifice in blood and seat of the declaration of independence of Sumatra on December 4, 1976 by the National Liberation Front (NLF). Members of the Darul Islam movement in Sumatra had regrouped under the leadership of Tengku Hasan di Tiro to fight the neo-colonial Indonesians in order to set up an Islamic State. [ . . .]

The diary of NLF President Hasan di Tiro gives a vivid account of the war fought in the snake and leech infested jungle and mountainous terrain. He moved through the entire region with a small force to declare the independence of Acheh Sumatra as an Islamic State. The date was selected for its symbolic importance. The Dutch had killed the last head of the Independent State on December 4, 1911. [ . . .]

Needless to say that this diary is a unique record as few, if any, Islamic fighters have written down their memoirs for posterity. It is not only inspiring for the Achehnese but also for other Muslims. Those who read it will realize that liberation from secular forces is not needed in Acheh alone but in other Muslim States as well. [ . . .] This intimate record with its profound observations transports the reader into the jungles of Acheh Sumatra and makes Hasan di Tiro’s struggle every Muslim’s struggle.

The full text of the diary is available (in English) at the ICIT Digital Library website for a small charge. However, a generous preview of the book is also freely available. Here are three extracts.

28 October 1976
‘On Thursday, October 28, 1976. at 2 PM. I boarded the boat that will take me to Acheh Sumatra from a mainland port of Asia with a dozen crew and about 15 guards. The boat is a 250 tonner, just a comfortable size to cross the Malacca Straits. The weather has been rough in the Andaman Sea for the last two weeks as the monsoon season is due to begin, but we are lucky to have a break of a fair weather just at the beginning of that day. As we begin sailing Southward we have a spectacular view of the mountain ranges and the green hilly islands emerging from the sea. When the sky is cloudy, the sea water here looked emerald green, and when the sky is blue, the water is also blue. When the nightfall, the dark tropical sky are strewn with countless bright stars, big and small, and as it was the beginning of the lunar month, the crescent has also appeared just above the horizon surrounded by other twinkling stars. The view is breathtakingly dramatic and peaceful. It is the calm before the storm. The purpose of my voyage has nothing to do with my surroundings. It is the antithesis of all appearances.

Many thoughts cross my mind. I think of Ceasar ’s crossing of the Rubicon that led to the civil war in Rome. My Rubicon is vastly larger and my crossing will not result in a civil war but in a national unity and in a war of national liberation to free my people from foreign domination, from the yoke of Javanese colonialism. I thought of Ceasar ’s landing in Spain, in Lerida. where he conquered the country in 40 days. But Ceasar had a legion with him. I have nothing. I come back alone - unarmed. I have no instrument of power. I brought only a message: that of national salvation and survival of the people of Acheh Sumatra as a Nation, and a reputation of a Tiro-man. No one inside the country knew of my coming or the implication of it. I face the Javanese Indonesian colonialist troops, half-a-million men strong, equipped with most modem weapons, experienced in guerilla-warfare, and had just massacred 2-million people who dared to oppose it. Yes. here I come. There is no turning back.

I thought of Napoleon ’s landing from Egypt under a vastly different circumstance. And of his landing at the Gulf of Juan from Elba. This last one must have been the most spectacular feat of personal history. I thought of Fidel Castro ’s landing in Cuba with his two-hundred comrades. I search for precedence, for guidance. I found none. Because I must face the fact that I come alone: without friend, without amis - none of my guards will be landing with me, - and without foreign backing: I do not come home to replace one colonialism with another. And yet my mission is to save my people from oblivion, to free my country from foreign domination which means to wage war of national liberation: in short to redeem the past and to justify the future of the Achehnese as a nation. Obviously the odds against me are overwhelming. But that did not stop me. I must do what I have to do.

I thought of what H. J. Schmidt had written about my family history in his book. Mareahaussee in Atjeh, published long ago that no matter what was the odd against him, a Tengku di Tiro would stand up and fight like a hero. A Tengku di Tiro will not accept defeat: he deems only two things acceptable for him: either victory, or else death. These are men, who in the free choice between life and death, would choose the latter. The last surviving Tengku di Tiro will die in the battlefield, and sooner or later will be followed by another, and another. This is going to be the last scene of every Act of a continuing Achehnese Drama that by now can no longer be played in any other way. The poignancy of this historical precedence and its relevancy to my present situation - I being the latter of the di Tiro, and the next chapter of Achehnese History is self-evident. And yet I did not do what I am doing in order to keep a record, but I did what came naturally to me. what I felt I must do. ’

31 October 1976
‘After about three hours march in the dark, we make a short rest in the village of Langgien, South of the town of Teupin Raya. Although tired, I have a sensational feeling being able to walk again on my own land, the land of my birth, after 25 years unable to set my foot on it, because the Javanese occupiers of my country would not allow me to return. I can never consent to asking foreigners permission for me to come back to my own land. After a rest of one-half hour, we proceed again toward the South, the mountain region. We begin climbing hills and descending them. Because there was rain during the day, the paths are very slippery. I fall flat on my back several times. By the time of day break we still have not reach our destination. After twice crossing the Pante Radja river, we finally reach our destination, the forest of Panton Weng, at about 7 A. M. This is a traditional guerilla hide-out, both during the war against the Dutch and during the last resistance against the Javanese Indonesians. The terrain is so hilly and covered with incredibly thick forests. One cannot see through within 15 meters, and there are many small brooks criss-crossing the forests. Everyone is so exhausted and in need to lie down. But there is no place to lie down unless one makes a clearing on the forest floor first. So the men begin to cut some trees to clear the ground just enough to lay a mat for me to lie down. In no time I fall asleep. For the first time on my own homeland in twenty-five years.

While I was asleep the men cut the trees to make clearance to establish our first camp. They picked up a place adjacent to a clear spring where they established two houses, one long, for themselves, and adjacent to it a special one. smaller, for my residence . For the roofs and walls they used black or green heavy and thick plastic tissues which come very handy, in the old time our fathers had to work several days just to make roofs for their guerilla camps out of cut grass. In two days we have functional houses in the midst of the forests complete with running water! We named this Camp Panton Weng. So I begin my new life as a guerilla warrior - picking up a long family tradition! ’

30 November 1976
‘In the morning of November 30, 1976. we leave the camp of Panton Weng for Tiro, taking Southwestern direction. The order of the march is as follow: first the Pawang party (the guides), then the advanced security guards, then my party, then the rear guards. We march single file. Even then it is difficult to avoid entanglement with forest shrubs and occasional rattan traps. Cutting of any trees, even a leaf is strictly forbidden as that can leave traces for the enemy to follow. We march in silence. This is the first long march through the forest that we have taken since my retum. Even the Pawangs are a bit hesitant in leading the way after they had not been in this part of the forests for so many years. One does not go here for pleasure. It turned out that it takes us four days of exhausting march to arrive to our new place in the mountains of Tiro. For me it was my first taste of what is more to come. It is to be the trial of body and soul.

During the march like that we are forced to sleep on the ground. We would stop marching at about 5 PM in order to be able to use the remaining day light hours to prepare for the night since fire is not to be used at night, for security reason. The men have to clear the ground over which a plastic tissue would be laid to prevent any seepage of water from below. Then a blanket would be laid down over the plastic tissue. If there is no rain, nothing further need to be done for one night stay. If there is rain then a make-shift roof must be contrived. Those who are in charge of cooking are the ones who have to work hardest, especially on rainy days when it is hardest to light the fire. But it is astonishing to see that my men, being mountain people, most of them, know exactly what trees they can light up without having to pick up the dry ones. So they have no problem starting the fire even in the rain. They know how to start the fire with a freshly cut green trees! I have read Dutch military reports during their war against us that when they came to the mountains to engage our guerillas, they had to go hungry for days in the rainy seasons because they did not know how to start the fire without using dry firewoods!

The hardest thing to do during the march when you have to climb high mountains is the carrying of rice and other food supply. You can never carry enough food sufficient for a long time. You have to break the journey for a new supply along the way. Usually our men see to it that everyone help each other and do their equal shares for hard works.

It took us four days to reach Tiro. On the third day we thought we had gotten lost and had arrived in Geumpang instead! In fact we did not get lost but everyone simply had no familiarity with the terrains anymore, even the Pawangs. It was a mistake because we did not take Pawang Baka with us whose territory this is. That every one agreed.

During this trip I had my first unforgettable hardship. It was when we were descending a very steep hill with the path all covered by slippery mud of such depth that it sometime reached up to my knees that I had to take my boots off, only to discover that the mud was infested with rattan thorns, two inches long on the average and the sharpness of which surpassed those of the roses. I had my bare feet plunged into several of these thorns. I thought the enemy must have planted them there. That was when I recalled with great nostalgia my many pleasant walks on Fifth Avenue. I really said to myself What am I doing here? It was at 2 AM and raining and we are all soaking wet, and exhausted. During these descends, Geutjhik Uma had to hold on my shoulders blades from behind in order to prevent me from falling forward down hill. ’

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