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Fallen, But Not Forgotten

Ceremonies Held to Commemorate the Tens of Thousands Who Died in Bali Following 1965 Gestapu Failed Coup

(10/5/2012) Thousands of Balinese died in violence following the failed coup attempt of September 30, 1965, according to the president of the Sukarno Center, Arya Wedekarna.

Quoted in Beritabali.com, Wedekarna depicted these deaths as either genocide or ethnic cleansing.

“Hundreds of thousands of Balinese were killed between 1965 and 1966. They were killed because they were suspected of being communists. In fact, being a communist does not mean you have no faith in God; communism is a political ideology,” explained Wedekarna at the Atma Wedana ceremony held for the victims of the 30th September movement of 1965 (Gestapu) held at the Monument of the People’s Struggle in Renon, downtown Denpasar, on Sunday, September 30, 2012.

According to Wedakarna, the Gestapu era was a conspiracy between those in power, the military and the ulamas (Islamic scholars) at the time.

Prior to the recently held commemorative cleansing ceremony of the Atma Wedana, many victims of Gestapu never benefited from a complete religious ceremony. The burial place of many victims remains a mystery.

“Earlier, many families of the victims were frightened to hold any kind of ceremony. They were frightened of being accused of being members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and suffering discrimination. The Atma Wedana ceremony is being held for our ancestors who fell as victims but never benefited from ritual ceremonies. Whether their actions were right or wrong is a matter best left to God and not for us to decide," said Wedakarna.

The Atma Wedana ceremony, meant to cleanse the souls of the dead, was attended by a number of VIPs including Sukmawati Soekarno Putri, the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, and Amelia Yani, the daughter of General Ahmad Yani who died in the now famous “night of the generals” in 1965.

The ceremony, led by 3 Hindu priests, performed a symbolic purification of 108 sekah – symbols representing the dead. At the end of the purification process, the symbols were ritually cremated on Sanur Beach in Bali.

The Atma Wedana ceremony was welcomed by the descendents of those who died in the aftermath of Gestapu attending the ceremony. Gede Rohita, from the village of Bulian in Buleleng, North Bali, whose father, Gede Tegeg, died nearly five decades ago, said: “My father was killed over a land dispute. Because of personal sentiments, (Gestapu) became an opportunity.”

Rohita told the press that the burial place of his father remains unknown to this day, but that the Hindu ceremony provides  some comfort and closure.

Bali erupted violently in the months following Gestapu in 1965-1966. Historical accounts suggest that perhaps at least 80,000 Balinese were killed - a number equal to 5% of the island’s population at the time.

Eyewitness reports from the time say corpses filled some Balinese rivers. And, to this day, the discovery of unmarked graves remains a not infrequent occurrence in areas of the islands where those trying to escape the violenceby sea were cut down and buried where they fell.

Anecdotal accounts of Gestapu in Bali are common. Employees tell of fathers abducted merely for wearing an article of red-colored clothing. Some businessmen used the ensuing chaos of the time eliminate competitors.

Amelia Yani, the daughter of Lt. General Ahmad Yani whose father was abducted and killed on September 30, 1965, and who attended the Bali ceremonies, said: “I was once angry and wanted revenge. But, with the resolution of Gestapu, it’s best we all move on without this added burden on our soul.”