Sunday, 27 December 2015

After 11 years, memories of Aceh tsunami live on

Aceh residents gathered on Saturday in a number of venues across the province to send their prayers to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated the region on that same date, 11 years ago.

At Banda Aceh’s Ulee Lheue mass grave, where more than 14,000 victims of the disaster were buried, local residents alternately visited the area throughout Saturday, to not only pray for the victims, but also to reflect on their stories as survivors.

Many of them also could not hold back their tears as they observed displayed at the grave’s entrance a number of photographs depicting the situation of the region shortly after being hit by the tsunami.

“Time passes quickly, but the sad memory of 11 years ago will always stay with us,” Yenni, a resident of Lambaro Skep subdistrict, told The Jakarta Post.

Despite the atrocious aftermath of the tsunami, Yenni, who lost several family members in the disaster, said she always encouraged herself to move on.

“It is impossible for us to keep mourning all the time, as God still gives us chances to survive,” she said.

Ulee Lheue and Siron Aceh Besar are the two biggest mass graves that the provincial administration dug for tsunami victims. Hundreds of smaller mass graves were also established in other parts of the region.

Like in previous years, Yussi, a Meulaboh resident, used the commemoration of the tsunami tragedy this year to visit several major mass graves in Banda Aceh, as she has no idea about her parents’ whereabouts after the tsunami.

“I don’t know where their bodies were buried. I’m also still hoping that they’re still alive,” she said.

The tremor that measured 8.9 on the Richter scale and the resulting tsunami waves that hit Aceh on Dec. 26, 2004 killed more than 120,000 people and displaced more than 800,000 others.

The disaster, however, also helped end a three-decade separatist conflict that had killed 15,000 people, when the commanders of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) agreed in mid-2005 to a peace accord signed in Helsinki, Finland.

Last year, a massive government-sponsored event to commemmorate the 10th anniversary of the disaster was held in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, with representatives from dozens of donor countries and international organizations attending the event.

This year, apart from smaller events held independently by local residents in mass graveyards or mosques, the Aceh Culture and Tourism Agency also organized a series of additional events, including a photo exhibition, a seminar and an arts performance, to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the tragedy.

The main commemoration, attended by, among others, Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Saaduddin Djamal, meanwhile, took place in a mosque in Lampuuk subdistrict. The mosquewas among the few buildings that survived the tsunami.

“In every tsunami commemoration, we are trying to spread certain messages to the public, including self-reflection, appreciation, [disaster] mitigation and [tourism] promotion,” agency head Reza Pahlevi said.

27 December 2015


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