Indonesia’s Forgotten Genocide

CANBERRA – October marked 50 years since the Indonesian military launched one of the twentieth century’s worst mass murders. Yet the anniversary passed almost unnoticed. The massacre of some 500,000 members or sympathizers of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) during 1965-1966 is the least talked-about genocide of the last century.

Lifting the veil on the bloodbath is long overdue, but those with a past to hide seem bound to resist this. Organizers of Bali’s renowned Ubud Writers and Readers Festival have just had a foretaste of what may be a new round of active censorship, with local officials threatening to cancel the entire festival if proposed panel discussions of the massacres went ahead.

The killings started in October 1965 in the aftermath of an abortive coup allegedly planned by the PKI. The military reacted by portraying the party and its supporters as an atheist force of evil which had to be annihilated. The resulting carnage was deliberate, systematic, and spanned the country, with the most horrific and intense violence in Central and East Java, Bali, and northern Sumatra.

This year also marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide, about which successive Turkish governments have maintained an indefensible denial. But at least the fate of the more than one million Turkish Armenians killed outright or death-marched into the Syrian desert in 1915 for their wartime “disloyalty” remains the subject of immense international scrutiny, research, and advocacy.