The Dutch colonial government declared war on Aceh on 26 March 1873; the apparent immediate trigger for their invasion was discussions between representatives of Aceh and the U.S. in Singapore during early 1873. An expedition under Major General Johan Harmen Rudolf Köhler was sent out in 1873, which was able to occupy most of the coastal areas. It was the intention of the Dutch to attack and take the Sultan’s palace, which would also lead to the occupation of the entire country. The Sultan requested and possibly received military aid from Italy and the United Kingdom in Singapore: in any case the Aceh army was rapidly modernized, and Aceh soldiers managed to kill Köhler (a monument of this achievement has been built inside Grand Mosque of Banda Aceh). Köhler made some grave tactical errors and the reputation of the Dutch was severely harmed.
Hasan Mustafa (1852-1930) was a chief ‘penghulu,’ or judge, for the colonial government and was stationed in Aceh. He had to balance traditional Muslim justice with Dutch law. To stop the Aceh rebellion, Hasan Mustafa issued a fatwa, telling the Muslims there in 1894, “It is Incumbent upon the Indonesian Muslims to be loyal to the Dutch East Indies Government”.
During World War II, Japanese troops occupied Aceh. Religious ulama party gained ascendancy to replace district warlords (uleebalang) party formerly collaborating with the Dutch. Concrete bunkers still line the northern-most beaches.
After World War II, civil war erupted in 1945 between district warlords party, supporting the return of Dutch government and religious ulama party, supporting newly proclaimed Indonesia State. The latter party won, and the area remained free during Indonesian War of Independence. The Dutch military itself never attempted to invade Aceh. The civil war put the religious ulama party leader, Daud Bereueh, as Military Governor of Aceh.
After the transfer of authority from Dutch Government to Indonesian State in 1949, Aceh was amalgamated with the nearby province of North Sumatra, leading to resentment from many Acehnese due to many ethnic-differences between themselves and the mostly Christian Batak people who dominate North Sumatra. This Resentment resulted in a rebellion in 1953, under the banner of Islamic State (Darul Islam), led by Daud Bereueh. Putting down the rebellion took years to complete. In 1959 the Indonesian government yielded in part and gave Aceh a “special territory” (daerah istimewa) status, giving it a greater degree of autonomy from the central government in Jakarta than most other regions of Indonesia have. For example, the regional government is empowered to construct a legal system independent of the national government. In 2003, a form of sharia, or Islamic law, was formally introduced in Aceh. . In 1963, Daud Bereueh signed a peace agreement, marking the end of Islamic Rebellion.
Free Aceh Movement
During 1970s, under agreement with Indonesian central government, American oil and gas companies began exploitation of Aceh natural resources. Alleged unequal distribution of profit between central government and native people of Aceh induced Hasan di Tiro, former ambassador of Darul Islam, to call for Independent Aceh. He proclaimed Aceh Independence in 1976.
The movement had a small number of followers initially, and Hasan di Tiro himself had to live in exile in Sweden. Meanwhile, the province followed Suharto’s policy of economic development and industrialization. During late 80s several security incidents prompted the Indonesian central government to take repressive measures and to send troops to Aceh. Human rights abuse was rampant for the next decade, resulting in many grievances on the part of the Acehnese toward the Indonesian central government.
During late 90s, chaos in Java and an ineffective central government gave an advantage to Free Aceh Movement and resulted in the second phase of the rebellion, this time with large support from the Acehnese people. This support was demonstrated during the 2000 plebiscite in Banda Aceh which was attended by nearly half million people (of four million population of the province). Indonesian central government responded in 2001 by broadening Aceh’s autonomy by giving its government the right to apply sharia law more broadly and the right to receive direct foreign investment. This was again accompanied by repressive measures, however and in 2003 an offensive began and a state of emergency was proclaimed in the Province. The war was still going on when the Tsunami Disaster of 2004 struck the province.