|Aceh, Indonesia’s westernmost province, is shown in purple.|
In March, the autonomous government of Aceh unveiled a new provincial flag (see photo at the top of this article), which just happened to the be the old flag of the supposedly-defanged separatist army, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka), known by its initials GAM. The government in Jakarta banned the flag and, although an Indonesian court supported the Acehnese position, nonetheless an agreement reached in the past week has now resulted in Indonesia’s home minister, Gamawan Fauzi, announcing that a new flag and new coat-of-arms will probably be designed for the province. The crisis had come to a head when Indonesian troops forcibly took down hundreds of Acehnese flags on August 2nd, which prompted Aceh’s governor, Zaidi Abdullah, to put a moratorium on flying the banner while negotiations went ahead.
|Aceh’s GAM rebels were proud of their flag.|
Like other vast unitary states with large restive minorities, such as India and the People’s Republic of China, subnational flags are rare in Indonesia. At the other end of Indonesia, the “Morning Star” flag of the Papuan people on the Indonesian, western half of the island of New Guinea is banned by law. But Aceh is in a special category.
|The rebel “Morning Star” flag of Papua and West Papua is even more strictly banned than the Acehnese flag.|
|Aceh after the tsunami in 2004|
The Acehnese flag, with its crescent and star, is said to be the nearly-millennium-old symbol of the former sultanate. It also happens to closely resemble the flag of the Republic of Turkey, with mostly just some stripes added. Because of this, Acehnese nationalists have at times flown the Turkish flag—the flag of a friendly Muslim ally of Indonesia’s, after all—to get around the rules and make their point.
|Aceh’s current coat-of-arms|
|Try as folks might, there is just no way to make a boring flag like Indonesia’s interesting.|
So now begins the long process of designing a new flag. A new coat-of-arms will also have to be designed, since that too is GAM insignia. More important than the flag’s design, however, will be the question of whether this or any flag is enough to appease the aspirations of Acehnese nationalists.
[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas. Look for it some time in 2013. I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]