West Papua has recently become an international media spotlight due to recent racism issues and violent outbreaks. Allegedly fueled by provoking commentaries from some wicked entities, the incident has sparked confusion among important figures across the globe. The history of Indonesia and West Papua is back on its contestation trajectory. Regardless of this somewhat chaotic atmosphere, West Papuans have now decided to sit back to have a talk for resolution. Peaceful and friendly dialogs have been flourishing across Indonesia and West Papua specifically. Last week (4/9) West Papuan tribal leaders, influential youth and students have gathered with local civil and security leaders to have a discussion. They decided that West Papua is and should always be a multicultural, peaceful region that everyone can visit.
Some questions and confusion
There are some big questions regarding the vagaries of the West Papuan issues. They discuss how multiculturalism is working in Indonesia. This includes where social classes are a conflicting matter between some groups or ethnicities, specifically the way West Papuans are perceived as more superior or inferior. The follow up discussion to this would be about how some of the alleged small incidents could escalate into violent riots in some areas of West Papua and become in international hit.
These questions are in fact not only raised by internationals but also Indonesians, especially West Papuans. People are perplexed by the quick escalation of the outbreaks. Some people have died, and infrastructures have been damaged. Indonesians quickly showed their condolences and, at the same time, solidarity, by initiating many gatherings and declarations of unity to establish that Indonesia is never perfect, and yet everybody, and every ethnicity in the country will forever deserve equality in all aspects of their lives.
The escalation of conflict was confirmed by many experts, and some West Papuan figures to be maleficently designed. Some international media outlets like RNZ, Reuters, ABC Australia, and Al Jazeera were seen to over-react to the incident in some Javanese cities. They viciously seized the moment to trigger international anger in response to the incident. Using unreliable evidence from some alleged provocateurs, they angled their news to present the narrative that all Indonesians are, if not have long been, consistently oppressing their fellow West Papuans. And, as you see on the news, these provocations eventually manifest in the violent riots in West Papua.
What those provoking entities do not, or rather, hopefully have not, inform(ed) their readers is the fact that while their provocations have been spreading out, Indonesians across the country have held many solidarity events that gather West Papuans and other Indonesians of other ethnicities. These people want nothing but to ensure that the incident in Surabaya was a poor misunderstanding which should never damage the harmony they have worked hard for.
Credible and honorable medias in Indonesia have published many articles to ensure that the multiculturalism Indonesia has was just being tested by some careless people. Alongside the media, prominent public figures from diverse fields, such as actors, actresses, news presenters, YouTubers, artists, have posted their sympathy to what has happened to their West Papuan brothers and have genuinely apologized.
Soon after, Indonesian authority leaders, such as the governor of East Java issued an apology to what happened in Surabaya. The Papuan province’s governor, Mr. Lukas Enembe himself has issued a statement that what happened should not trigger any further anger and clashes because the country has taken this racism incident seriously and people in general have condemned it.
In fact, recently, security authority has arrested some people responsible for their racist remarks and provocation during the Surabaya incident.
A public event titled a fun walk for peace and unity was held by people from various ethnicities in Surabaya just a few days after the incident happened. During the event, the people including West Papuans who came declared that the city is no place for racism whatsoever. It was ended by many people giving hugs to the West Papuans ensuring that all are one family.
And yet, as you may have just heard that info, such an event was never an attention of the aforementioned international media. But that does not matter. Because, Indonesians responded the evil provocations by holding peaceful rallies to declare against them and having multicultural dialogs across the country
Dialogs and dialogs: maintaining peace
Recently this week, in West Papua, a kind of grand gathering was held, initiated by local leaders there. Gathered were prominent representatives from aspired universities in West Papua, including the Cendrawasih University (CU), West Papuan tribal and social leaders and influencers, and other leaders from the bureaucracy and security forces.
Among those that joined the dialog were Amos Kayame – chief of CU’s students’ council, Beni Bame – chief West Papuan catholic student association, Michael Yarisetow – chief of CRC (Cendrawasih Reading Center), Yoan Wabitman – CU’s prominent alumni. Some of the local tribal leaders were Yesaya Kenelak, Agus Rawa Kogoya, Amos Gombo, and Panius Jikwa. Among them also was Mr. Herman Asaribab, chief of the Papuan province’s military office, who is one of the prominent national leaders in Indonesia from West Papuan ethnicity.
During the dialog session, these people expressed their condemnation towards the recent racism issues that the Indonesian society has been dealing with. More importantly, they showed how puzzled they were by the quick escalation of the recent conflict in West Papua. The student representatives argued the Surabaya incident was critical but that it should not have triggered violence. To this end, everyone in the forum saw how some provoking media outlets and individuals like Benny Wenda, Veronica Koman and Lewis Prai, were responsible for the violent riots.
Both the students and tribal leaders agreed that after the incident in Surabaya they have worked hard to maintain peace both in and out of West Papua. Within the West Papuan region (West Papua and Papua provinces) unfortunately, matters went out of their plans and control. They witnessed how some of groups they recognized as armed criminals infiltrated their peace strikes and demonstrations. They came took over the masses, pushing out the peace demonstrators who were mainly students, and started acts of aggression and arson. It was a very unfortunate situation in which some students passed away during the chaos.
Indonesian authorities during the dialog mentioned that no repression was ever taken during the riots. The security forces would not fight back unless they are attacked first. Whenever strikes go violent, disturb public safety or damage public infrastructures, security forces must take action, as those of other nations’ security would also take. Such confusion, though, was also experienced by the forces because all permission for demonstrations was given to the students who were committed to maintain peace. They were quite happy to hear that people in West Papua, regardless of their ethnicities are always inclined to refrain from and condemn violence to maintain a peaceful and multicultural environment in West Papua as they uphold the rule of the law.
The dialog in the end has brought these people together to understand that those provocations are the real public enemy. The forum is nothing but to strengthen and promote optimism that West Papua is strong. The region and its people need to pay close attention to any potential incidents and understand that when provoking comments from savage, vicious entities, they do not care.
After the meeting, people held a Bakar Batu (rock burning) ceremony initiated by the West Papuan Indigenous people of Lapago in Jayapura. This sacred rock-burning was carried out in Hawaii Square, Sentani District, on Thursday 5 September 2019.
“We hope for the re-creation of harmony between communities in West Papua, including both West Papuans and non-West Papuans, because we who have lived in West Papua are brothers. Furthermore, let’s all create conditions that are safe and peaceful in the Land of West Papua,” said Agus Rawa Kogoya, Chief of the Lapago people of West Papua. (*)