This article is about the present-day province of Indonesia. For the earlier sultanate, see Sultanate of Aceh. For the breed of cattle, see Aceh cattle.
Aceh Darussalam
اچيه دارالسلام
Special territory


Nickname(s): Serambi Mekkah
Porch of Mecca
Motto: "Pancacita"(Sanskrit)
"Five goals"
Map indicating the location of Aceh in Indonesia
Location of Aceh (green) in Indonesia (beige).
Coordinates: 5°33′N 95°19′E / 5.550°N 95.317°E / 5.550; 95.317Coordinates: 5°33′N 95°19′E / 5.550°N 95.317°E / 5.550; 95.317
Country  Indonesia
Established December 7, 1956
Capital Banda Aceh
  Body Aceh Regional Government
  Governor Zaini Abdullah (PA)
  Vice-governor Muzakir Manaf
  Total 58,376.81 km2 (22,539.41 sq mi)
Area rank 11th
Elevation 125 m (410 ft)
Highest elevation 3,466 m (11,371 ft)
Lowest elevation 0 m (0 ft)
Population (2016)[1]
  Total 5.096.248
  Rank 14th
  Density 8.7×10−5/km2 (0.00023/sq mi)
  Density rank 20th
Demonym(s) Acehnese
Warga Aceh (id)
Kawom Aceh (ace)
  Ethnic groups 70.65% Acehnese
8.94% Javanese
7.22% Gayo
3.29% Batak
2.13% Alas
1.49% Simeulue
1.40 Aneuk Jamee
1.11% Tamiang Malay
1.04% Singkil
0.74% Minangkabau[2]
  Religion 98.19% Islam (official)
  Languages Indonesian (official)
Acehnese (regional)
Time zone Indonesia Western Time (UTC+7)
Postcodes 23xxx, 24xxx
Area codes (62)6xx
ISO 3166 code ID-AC
Vehicle sign BL
GRP per capita US$ 2,239.49
GRP rank 26th
HDI Increase 0.688 (Medium)
HDI rank 12th (2014)
Largest city by area Subulussalam - 1.206 square kilometres (0.466 sq mi)
Largest city by population Banda Aceh - (220,433 - 2010)
Largest regency by area East Aceh Regency - 6,286.01 square kilometres (2,427.04 sq mi)
Largest regency by population North Aceh Regency - (557,721 - 2014)
Website Goverment official site

Aceh (Acehnese: Acèh; Jawi: اچيه; Dutch: Atjeh or Acheh; Indonesian: Provinsi Aceh) is a special region of Indonesia. The territory is located at the northern end of Sumatra. Its capital is Banda Aceh. It is close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India and separated from them by the Andaman Sea.

There are 10 indigenous ethnic groups in this region, the largest being the Acehnese people, accounting for approximately 80 to 90% of the region's population.

Aceh is thought to have been the place where the spread of Islam in Indonesia began, and was a key factor of the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia. Islam reached Aceh (Kingdoms of Fansur and Lamuri) around 1250 AD. In the early seventeenth century the Sultanate of Aceh was the most wealthy, powerful and cultivated state in the Malacca Straits region. Aceh has a history of political independence and resistance to control by outsiders, including the former Dutch colonists and the Indonesian government.

Aceh has substantial natural resources, including oil and natural gas; some estimates put Aceh gas reserves as being the largest in the world. Relative to most of Indonesia, it is a religiously conservative area.[3] It has the highest proportion of Muslims in Indonesia, who mostly live according to Sharia customs and laws.[4]

Aceh was the closest point of land to the epicenter of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which devastated much of the western coast of the province. Approximately 170,000 Indonesians were killed or went missing in the disaster.[5] The disaster helped precipitate the peace agreement between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Aceh was first known as Aceh Darussalam (1511–1959) and then later as the Daerah Istimewa Aceh (1959–2001), Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam (2001–2009) and Aceh (2009–present). Past spellings of Aceh include Acheh, Atjeh and Achin.



According to several archaeological findings, the first evidence of human habitation in Aceh is from a site near the Tamiang River where shell middens are present. Stone tools and faunal remains were also found on the site. Archeologists believe the site was first occupied around 10,000 BC.[6]

Pre-Islamic Aceh

Not much has been uncovered about the pre-Islamic history of Aceh, however there are several artifacts that linked pre-Islamic era with Buddhism and culture from the Indochina region, as well as Old Malay custom. Historic names such as Indrapurba, Indrapurwa, Indrapatra, and Indrapuri gave some hint of Indian influence on this region. However, there are no archaeological findings (such as statues or temples) that link this region with Hinduism.

Beginnings of Islam in Southeast Asia

Map of Pasai, the first Islamic kingdom in South East Asia

Evidence concerning the initial coming and subsequent establishment of Islam in Southeast Asia is thin and inconclusive. The historian Anthony Reid has argued that the region of the Cham people on the south-central coast of Vietnam was one of the earliest Islamic centers in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, as the Cham people fled the Vietnamese, one of the earliest locations that they established a relationship with was Aceh.[7] Furthermore, it is thought that one of the earliest centers of Islam was in the Aceh region. When Venetian traveller Marco Polo passed by Sumatra on his way home from China in 1292 he found that Peureulak was a Muslim town while nearby 'Basma(n)' and 'Samara' were not. 'Basma(n)' and 'Samara' are often said to be Pasai and Samudra but evidence is inconclusive. The gravestone of Sultan Malik as-Salih, the first Muslim ruler of Samudra, has been found and is dated AH 696 (AD 1297). This is the earliest clear evidence of a Muslim dynasty in the Indonesia-Malay area and more gravestones from the thirteenth century show that this region continued under Muslim rule. Ibn Batutah, a Moroccan traveller, passing through on his way to China in 1345 and 1346, found that the ruler of Samudra was a follower of the Shafi'i school of Islam.[8]

The Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires reported in his early 16th-century book Suma Oriental that most of the kings of Sumatra from Aceh through Palembang were Muslim. At Pasai, in what is now the North Aceh Regency, there was a thriving international port. Pires attributed the establishment of Islam in Pasai to the 'cunning' of the Muslim merchants. The ruler of Pasai, however, had not been able to convert the people of the interior.[9]

Sultanate of Aceh

Main article: Sultanate of Aceh
Map of Aceh Sultanate during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda

The Sultanate of Aceh was established by Sultan Ali Mughayat Syah in 1511.

In 1584–88 the Bishop of Malacca, D. João Ribeiro Gaio, based on information provided by a former captive called Diogo Gil, wrote the "Roteiro das Cousas do Achem" (Lisboa 1997) – a description of the Sultanate.

Later, during its golden era, in the 17th century, its territory and political influence expanded as far as Satun in southern Thailand, Johor in Malay Peninsula, and Siak in what is today the province of Riau. As was the case with most non-Javan pre-colonial states, Acehnese power expanded outward by sea rather than inland. As it expanded down the Sumatran coast, its main competitors were Johor and Portuguese Malacca on the other side of the Straits of Malacca. It was this seaborne trade focus that saw Aceh rely on rice imports from north Java rather than develop self sufficiency in rice production.[10]

After the Portuguese occupation of Malacca in 1511, many Islamic traders passing the Malacca Straits shifted their trade to Banda Aceh and increased the Acehnese rulers' wealth. During the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda in the 17th century, Aceh's influence extended to most of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Aceh allied itself with the Ottoman Empire and the Dutch East India Company in their struggle against the Portuguese and the Johor Sultanate. Acehnese military power waned gradually thereafter, and Aceh ceded its territory of Pariaman in Sumatra to the Dutch in the 18th century.[11]

By the early nineteenth century, however, Aceh had become an increasingly influential power due to its strategic location for controlling regional trade. In the 1820s it was the producer of over half the world's supply of black pepper. The pepper trade produced new wealth for the Sultanate and for the rulers of many smaller nearby ports that had been under Aceh's control, but were now able to assert more independence. These changes initially threatened Aceh's integrity, but a new sultan Tuanku Ibrahim, who controlled the kingdom from 1838 to 1870, reasserted power over nearby ports.[12]

Under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 the British ceded their colonial possessions on Sumatra to the Dutch. In the treaty, the British described Aceh as one of their possessions, although they had no actual control over the Sultanate. Initially, under the agreement the Dutch agreed to respect Aceh's independence. In 1871, however, the British dropped previous opposition to a Dutch invasion of Aceh, possibly to prevent France or the United States from gaining a foothold in the region. Although neither the Dutch nor the British knew the specifics, there had been rumors since the 1850s that Aceh had been in communication with the rulers of France and of the Ottoman Empire.[12]

Aceh War

Main article: Aceh War
General Köhler, commandant of Dutch troops, died from a shot by an Acehnese sniper during the first attack on Aceh

Pirates operating from Aceh threatened commerce in the Strait of Malacca; the sultan was unable to control them. Britain was a protector of Aceh and gave the Netherlands permission to eradicate the pirates. The campaign quickly drove out the sultan but the local leaders mobilized and fought the Dutch in four decades of guerrilla war, with high levels of atrocities.[13] The Dutch colonial government declared war on Aceh on 26 March 1873. Aceh sought American help but Washington rejected the request.[12]

The Dutch tried one strategy after another over the course of four decades. An expedition under Major General Johan Harmen Rudolf Köhler in 1873 occupied most of the coastal areas. Köhler's strategy was to attack and take the Sultan's palace. It failed. The Dutch then tried a naval blockade, reconciliation, concentration within a line of forts, and lastly passive containment. They had scant success. Reaching 15 to 20 million guilders a year, the heavy spending for failed strategies nearly bankrupted the colonial government.[14]

The Aceh army was rapidly modernized, and Aceh soldiers managed to kill Köhler (a monument to this achievement has been built inside Grand Mosque of Banda Aceh). Köhler made some grave tactical errors and the reputation of the Dutch was severely harmed. In recent years in line with expanding international attention to human rights issues and atrocities in war zones, there has been increasing discussion about some of the recorded acts of cruelty and slaughter committed by Dutch troops during the period of warfare in Aceh.[15]

Hasan Mustafa (1852–1930) was a chief 'penghulu,' or judge, for the colonial government and was stationed in Aceh. He had to balance traditional Muslim justice with Dutch law. To stop the Aceh rebellion, Hasan Mustafa issued a fatwa, telling the Muslims there in 1894, "It is Incumbent upon the Indonesian Muslims to be loyal to the Dutch East Indies Government".[16]

Japanese occupation

During World War II, Japanese troops occupied Aceh. The Acehnese Ulama (Islamic clerics) fought against both the Dutch and the Japanese, revolting against the Dutch in February 1942 and against Japan in November 1942. The revolt was led by the All-Aceh Religious Scholars' Association ( PUSA). The Japanese suffered 18 dead in the uprising while they slaughtered up to 100 or over 120 Acehnese.[17][18] The revolt happened in Bayu and was centered around Tjot Plieng village's religious school.[19][20][21][22] During the revolt, the Japanese troops armed with mortars and machine guns were charged by sword wielding Acehnese under Teungku Abduldjalil (Tengku Abdul Djalil) in Buloh Gampong Teungah and Tjot Plieng on 10 and 13 November.[23][24][25][26][27][28][29] On May 1945 the Acehnese rebelled again.[30] The religious ulama party gained ascendancy to replace district warlords (uleebalang) party that formerly collaborated with the Dutch. Concrete bunkers still line the northernmost beaches.

Indonesian independence

After World War II, civil war erupted in 1945 between the district warlords party, that supported the return of a Dutch government, and the religious ulama party that supported the newly proclaimed state of Indonesia. The ulama won, and the area remained free during Indonesian War of Independence. The Dutch military itself never attempted to invade Aceh. The civil war raised the religious ulama party leader, Daud Bereueh, to the position of military governor of Aceh.[31][32]

Acehnese rebellion

Teungku Daud Beureu'eh, the leader of Darul Islam Aceh

The Acehnese revolted soon after its inclusion into an independent Indonesia, a situation created by a complex mix of what the Acehnese regarded as transgressions against and betrayals of their rights.

Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia, had reneged on his promise made on 16 June 1948 that Aceh would be allowed to rule itself in accordance with its religious values which had been in place for centuries. Aceh was politically dismantled and incorporated into the province of North Sumatra in 1950. This resulted in the Acehnese Rebellion of 1953–59 which was led by Daud Beureu'eh who on 20 September 1953 declared a free independent Aceh under the leadership of Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosoewirjo. In 1959, the Indonesian government attempted to placate the Acehnese by offering wide-ranging freedom in matters relating to religion, education and culture.


Main article: Governor of Aceh
No. Portrait Name Took Office Left Office
1. Teuku Nyak Arief19451946 
2. Teuku Daud Syah19471948 
3. Tgk Daud Beureu'eh19481952 
4. Teuku Sulaiman Daud19521953 
5. Abdul Wahab19531955 
6. Abdul Razak19551956 
7. Prof. Dr. Ali Hasjmy19571964 
8. Nyak Adam Kamil19641966 
9. H. Asbi Wahidi19661967 
10. Abdullah Muzakir Walad19671978 
11. Abdul Madjid Ibrahim19781981 
* H. Eddy Sabara19811981
12. Hadi Thayeb19811986 
13. Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Hassan19861993 
14. Prof. Dr. Syamsudin Mahmud199321 June 2000 
* Ramli Ridwan21 Juni 2000November 2000
15. Abdullah PutehNovember 200019 July 2004
* Azwar Abubakar19 July 200430 December 2005
* Mustafa Abubakar30 December 20058 February 2007
16. Irwandi Yusuf8 February 20078 February 2012 
* Tarmizi Abdul Karim8 February 201225 June 2012 
17. Zaini Abdullah25 June 2012Incumbent 
* Mayjen (Purn) Soedarmo27 Oktober 2016Sekarang 

Note: * = Acting governor, in place until a full governor was formerly appointed

Free Aceh Movement

Main article: Insurgency in Aceh
Women soldiers of the Free Aceh Movement with GAM commander Abdullah Syafei'i, 1999

During the 1970s, under an agreement with the Indonesian central government, American oil and gas companies began exploitation of Aceh natural resources. Alleged unequal distribution of profits between central government and the native people of Aceh induced Dr.Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, former ambassador of Darul Islam,[31] to call for an independent Aceh. He proclaimed independence in 1976.

The movement had a small number of followers initially, and Dr.Hasan Muhammad di Tiro himself had to live in exile in Sweden. Meanwhile, the province followed Suharto's policy of economic development and industrialization. During the late 1980s several security incidents prompted the Indonesian central government to take repressive measures and to send troops to Aceh. Human rights abuse was rampant for the next decade, resulting in many grievances on the part of the Acehnese toward the Indonesian central government. In 1990, the Indonesian government initiated military operations against GAM by deploying more than 12.000 Indonesian army in the region.

During the late 1990s, chaos in Java and an ineffective central government gave an advantage to the Free Aceh Movement and resulted in the second phase of the rebellion, this time with large support from the Acehnese people. This support was demonstrated during the 1999 plebiscite in Banda Aceh which was attended by nearly half a million people (of four million population of the province). Indonesian central government responded in 2001 by broadening Aceh's autonomy, giving its government the right to apply Sharia law more broadly and the right to receive direct foreign investment. This was again accompanied by repressive measures, however, and in 2003 an offensive began and a state of emergency was proclaimed in the Province. The war was still going on when the Tsunami Disaster of 2004 struck the province.

Exxon Mobil human rights abuse lawsuit

On 21 June 2001 11 villagers from an Acehnese village in the North Aceh Regency used the Alien Tort Claims Act to sue Exxon Mobil in United States federal court for human rights abuses at the Arun natural gas field. The villagers claim they were tortured, raped, or murdered by soldiers from the Indonesian military. They claimed that Exxon Mobil created barracks to be used for torture of detainees and gave the Indonesian military unit which guarded the Exxon-Mobil natural gas field heavy equipment to cover mass burials after a clash with separatists.[33] Exxon Mobil reportedly shut down the site because of escalating violence. The villagers need to reveal their identities in order to receive Indonesian government protection, but are reluctant to do so for fear of reprisals from the Indonesian military.

Tsunami disaster

Aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh

The western coastal areas of Aceh, including the cities of Banda Aceh, Calang, and Meulaboh, were among the areas hardest-hit by the tsunami resulting from the magnitude 9.2 Indian Ocean earthquake on 26 December 2004.[34] While estimates vary, over 170,000 people were killed by tsunami in Aceh and about 500,000 were left homeless. The tragedy of the tsunami was further compounded several months later on 28 March 2005 when a second off-shore earthquake measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale struck the sea bed between the islands of Simeulue Island in Aceh and Nias in North Sumatra. This second quake killed a further 1346 people on Nias and Simeulue, displaced tens of thousands more, and caused the tsunami response to be expanded to include Nias. the World Health Organisation estimates a 100% increase in prevalence of mild and moderate mental disorders in Aceh's general population after the tsunami.[35]

The population of Aceh before the December 2004 tsunami was 4,271,000 (2004). The population as of 15 September 2005 was 4,031,589, and at January 2014 was 4,731,705.[1]

As of February 2006, more than a year after the tsunami, a large number of people were still living in barrack-style temporary living centers (TLC) or tents. Reconstruction was visible everywhere, but due to the sheer scale of the disaster, and logistical issues, progress was slow. A study in 2007 estimates 83.6% of the population has psychiatric illness, while 69.8% suffers from severe emotional distress.[36]

The ramifications of the tsunami went beyond the immediate impact to the lives and infrastructure of the Acehnese living on the coast. Since the disaster, the Acehnese rebel movement GAM, which had been fighting for independence against the Indonesian authorities for 29 years, has signed a peace deal (15 August 2005). The perception that the tsunami was punishment for insufficient piety in this proudly Muslim province is partly behind the increased emphasis on the importance of religion post-tsunami. This has been most obvious in the increased implementation of Sharia law, including the introduction of the controversial 'WH' or Syariah police. As homes are being built and people's basic needs are met, the people are also looking to improve the quality of education, increase tourism, and develop responsible, sustainable industry. Well-qualified educators are in high demand in Aceh.

Boats washed ashore near local businesses in down town Aceh, Sumatra following a massive Tsunami that struck the area on 26 December 2004

While parts of the capital Banda Aceh were unscathed, the areas closest to the water, especially the areas of Kampung Jawa and Meuraxa, were completely destroyed. Most of the rest of the western coast of Aceh was severely damaged. Many towns completely disappeared. Other towns on Aceh's west coast hit by the disaster included Lhoknga, Leupung, Lamno, Patek, Calang, Teunom, and the island of Simeulu. Affected or destroyed towns on the region's north & east coast were Pidie Regency, Samalanga, and Lhokseumawe.

The area was slowly rebuilt after the disaster. The government initially proposed the creation of a two-kilometer buffer zone along low-lying coastal areas within which permanent construction was not permitted. This proposal was unpopular among some local inhabitants and proved impractical in most situations, especially fishing families that are dependent on living near to the sea.

The Indonesian government set up a special agency for Aceh reconstruction, the Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR) headed by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, a former Indonesian Minister. This agency had ministry level of authority and incorporated officials, professionals and community leaders from all backgrounds. Most of the reconstruction work was performed by local people using a mix of traditional methods and partial prefabricated structures, with funding coming from many international organizations and individuals, governments, and the people themselves.

The Government of Indonesia estimated in their Preliminary Damage and Losses Assessment[37] that damages amounted to US$4.5 billion (before inflation, and US$6.2 billion including inflation). Three years after the tsunami, reconstruction was still ongoing. The World Bank monitored funding for reconstruction in Aceh and reported that US$7.7 billion had been earmarked for the reconstruction whilst at June 2007 US$5.8 billion had been allocated to specific reconstruction projects, of which US$3.4 billion had actually been spent (58%).

In 2009, the government opened a US$5.6 million museum to commemorate the tsunami with photographs, stories, and a simulation of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami.[38]

On 11 April 2012. a Magnitude 8.7 earthquake struck in the Aceh, and tsunami warnings were issued to 28 countries.

Peace agreement and first local elections

Martti Ahtisaari, facilitator in Aceh-Indonesia peace agreement

The 2004 tsunami helped trigger a peace agreement between the GAM and the Indonesian government. The mood in post-Suharto Indonesia in the liberal-democratic reform period, as well as changes in the Indonesian military, helped create an environment more favorable to peace talks. The roles of newly elected president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and vice president Jusuf Kalla were highly significant.[39] At the same time, the GAM leadership was undergoing changes, and the Indonesian military had inflicted so much damage on the rebel movement that it had little choice but to negotiate with the central government.[40] The peace talks were facilitated by a Finland-based NGO, the Crisis Management Initiative, and led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. The resulting peace agreement, generally known as the Helsinki MOU, was signed on 15 August 2005. Under the agreement Aceh would receive special autonomy and government troops would be withdrawn from the province in exchange for GAM's disarmament. As part of the agreement, the European Union dispatched 300 monitors. Their mission expired on 15 December 2006, following local elections.

Aceh has been granted broader autonomy through Aceh Government Legislation covering special rights agreed upon in 2002 as well as the right of the Acehnese to establish local political parties to represent their interests.[41] Human rights advocates protested that previous human rights violations in the province needed to be addressed, however.[42]

During elections for the provincial governor held in December 2006, the former GAM and national parties participated. The election was won by Irwandi Yusuf, whose base of support consisted largely of ex-GAM members.

Ecology and biodiversity

Aceh has the largest range of biodiversity in the Asian Pacific region.[43] Among the rarer large mammals are the Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, Orangutan and Sumatran elephant.[43] In 2014, there were 460 Sumatran elephants in Aceh including at least eight baby elephants.[44] The area has been suffering from deforestation since the 1970s.[45] The first wood pulp mill in Aceh was built in 1982.[46] The government of Aceh intends a law by which 1.2 million hectares would be opened for commercial use.[47] This proposal has caused many protests.[47]


Within the country, Aceh is governed not as a province but as a special territory (daerah istimewa), an administrative designation intended to give the area increased autonomy from the central government in Jakarta.

Regional elections have been held in Aceh in recent years for senior positions at the provincial, regency (kabupaten) and district (kecamatan) levels. In the 2006 elections, Irwandi Yusuf was elected as the provincial governor for 2007–2012 and in elections in April 2012, Zaini Abdullah was elected as governor for 2012–2017.


Use of sharia in Southeast Asia:
  Choice between sharia and secular courts, only on personal status issues
  Sharia applies in personal status issues only
  Sharia applies in full, including criminal law

Beginning with the promulgation of Law 44/1999, Aceh's governor began to issue limited Sharia-based regulations, for example requiring female government employees to wear Islamic dress. These regulations were not enforced by the provincial government, but as early as April 1999, reports emerged that groups of men in Aceh were engaging in vigilante violence in an effort to impose Sharia, for example, by conducting "jilbab raids," subjecting women who were not wearing Islamic headscarves to verbal abuse, cutting their hair or clothes, and committing other acts of violence against them.[48] The frequency of these and other attacks on individuals considered to be violating Sharia principles appeared to increase following the enactment of Law 44/1999 and the governor's Sharia regulations.[48] In 2014, a group of scholars who call themselves Tadzkiiratul Ummah, started to paint the pants of men and women as a call for heavier Islamic law enforcement in the area.[49]

Upon the enactment of the Special Autonomy Law in 2001, Aceh's provincial legislature enacted a series of qanuns (local laws) governing the implementation of Sharia. Five qanuns enacted between 2002 and 2004 contained criminal penalties for violations of Sharia: Qanun 11/2002 on "belief, ritual, and promoting Islam," which contains the Islamic attire requirement; Qanun 12/2003 prohibiting the consumption and sale of alcohol; Qanun 13/2003 prohibiting gambling; Qanun 14 /2003 prohibiting "seclusion"; and Qanun 7/2004 on the payment of Islamic alms. With the exception of gambling, none of the offenses are prohibited outside of Aceh.[48]

Responsibility for enforcement of the qanuns rests both with the National Police and with a special Sharia police force unique to Aceh, known as the Wilayatul Hisbah (Sharia Authority). All of the qanuns provide for penalties including fines, imprisonment, and caning, the latter a punishment unknown in most parts of Indonesia. Between mid-2005 and early 2007, at least 135 people were caned in Aceh for transgressing the qanuns.[48] In April 2016, a 60-year-old non-Muslim woman was sentenced to 30 lashes for selling alcohol drinks. The controversy is that qanun is not allowed for non-Muslim person, and national law should be used instead as in other parts of Indonesia.[50]

In April 2009, Partai Aceh won control of the local parliament in Aceh's first post-war legislative elections. In September 2009, one month before the new legislators were to take office, the outgoing parliament unanimously endorsed two new qanuns to expand the existing criminal Sharia framework in Aceh.


In practice since the introduction of the new laws, there has been a considerable increase in the use of the penalties provided set out in the laws. As an example, in August 2015 six men in Bireun regency were arrested and caned for betting on the names of passing buses.[52] And it was reported that on just one day, 18 September 2015, a total of 34 people were caned in Banda Aceh and in the nearby regency of Aceh Besar.[53]

Administrative divisions

Regencies of Aceh

Administratively, the special region is subdivided into eighteen regencies (kabupaten) and five autonomous cities (kota). The capital and the largest city is Banda Aceh, located on the coast near the northern tip of Sumatra. Some local areas are pushing to create new autonomous areas, usually with the stated goal of enhancing local control over politics and development.

The cities and regencies (subdivided into the districts of Aceh), are listed below with their populations at the 2010 Census[54] and according to the latest estimates for January 2014.[1]

Name Capital Est. Establish
by Statute
Area (in km²) Population
2010 Census
2014 Estimates
2014 Estimates
Sabang City 1967 153.00 30,653 32,271 0.715 (High)
Banda Aceh City 1956 UU 24/1956 61.36 223,446 235,245 0.822 (Very High)
Aceh Besar Regency Jantho 1956 UU 24/1956 2,969.00 351,418 369,972 0.711 (High)
Pidie Regency Sigli 1956 UU 24/1956 3,086.95 379,108 399,124 0.679 (Medium)
Pidie Jaya Regency Meureudu 2007 UU 7/2007 1,073.60 132,956 139,976 0.699 (Medium)
Bireuen Regency Bireuen 1999 UU 48/1999 1,901.20 389,288 409,842 0.687 (Medium)
Central Aceh Regency
(Aceh Tengah)
Takengon 1956 UU 24/1956 4,318.39 175,527 184,794 0.701 (High)
Bener Meriah Regency Simpang Tiga Redelong 2003 UU 41/2003 1,454.09 122,277 128,733 0.700 (High)
North Aceh Regency
(Aceh Utara)
Lhoksukon 1956 UU 24/1956 3,236.86 529,751 557,721 0.659 (Medium)
Lhokseumawe City 2001 UU 2/2001 181.06 171,163 180,200 0.744 (High)
East Aceh Regency
(Aceh Timur)
Idi Rayeuk 1956 UU 24/1956 6,286.01 360,475 379,507 0.636 (Medium)
Langsa City 2001 UU 3/2001 262.41 148,945 156,809 0.738 (High)
Aceh Tamiang Regency Karang Baru 2002 UU 4/2002 1,956.72 251,914 265,215 0.661 (Medium)
Gayo Lues Regency Blangkejeren 2002 UU 4/2002 5,719.58 79,560 83,761 0.633 (Medium)
Southeast Aceh Regency
(Aceh Tenggara)
Kutacane 1974 UU 7/1974 4,231.43 179,010 188,461 0.659 (Medium)
Subulussalam City 2007 UU 8/2007 1,391.00 67,446 71,007 0.604 (Medium)
Aceh Singkil Regency
(including the Banyak Islands)
Singkil 1999 UU 14/1999 2,185.00 102,509 107,921 0.653 (Medium)
Simeulue Regency Sinabang 1999 UU 48/1999 2,051.48 80,674 84,933 0.622 (Medium)
South Aceh Regency
(Aceh Selatan)
Tapaktuan 1956 UU 24/1956 3,841.60 202,251 212,929 0.624 (Medium)
Southwest Aceh Regency
(Aceh Barat Daya)
Blangpidie 2002 UU 4/2002 1,490.60 126,036 132,690 0.631 (Medium)
Nagan Raya Regency Suka Makmue 2002 UU 4/2002 3,363.72 139,663 147,037 0.656 (Medium)
West Aceh Regency
(Aceh Barat)
Meulaboh 1956 UU 24/1956 2,927.95 173,558 182,721 0.673 (Medium)
Aceh Jaya Regency Calang 2002 UU 4/2002 3,812.99 76,782 80,836 0.673 (Medium)

Note: UU is an abbreviation from Undang-Undang (the Indonesia statute of law).


In 2006, economy of Aceh grew by 7.7% after having minimal growth since the devastating tsunami.[56] This growth was primarily driven by the reconstruction effort with massive growth in the building/construction sector.

The ending of the conflict, and the reconstruction program resulted in the structure of the economy changing significantly since 2003. Service sectors played a more dominant role whilst the share of the oil and gas sectors continued to decline.

Sector (% share of Aceh GDP) 2003 2004 2005 2006
Agriculture and fisheries 17 20 21 21
Oil, Gas and Mining 36 30 26 25
Manufacturing (incl oil & gas manufact) 20 18 16 14
Electricity and Water Supply ...
Building / Construction 3 4 4 5
Trade, hotels and restaurants 11 12 14 15
Transport & Communication 3 4 5 5
Banking & other Financial 1 1 1 1
Services 8 10 13 13
Total 100 100 100 100

Note: ... = less than 0.5%

After peaking at around 40% in December 2005, largely as a result of the Dutch disease impact of sudden aid flows into the province, inflation declined steadily and was 8.5% in June 2007, close to the national level in Indonesia of 5.7%. Persistent inflation means that Aceh's consumer price index (CPI) remains the highest in Indonesia. As a result, Aceh's cost competitiveness has declined as reflected in both inflation and wage data. Although inflation has slowed down, CPI has registered steady increases since the tsunami. Using 2002 as a base, Aceh's CPI increased to 185.6 (June 2007) while the national CPI increased to 148.2. There have been relatively large nominal wage increases in particular sectors, such as construction where, on average, workers' nominal wages have risen to almost Rp.60,000 per day, from Rp.29,000 pre-tsunami. This is also reflected in Aceh's minimum regional wage (UMR, or Upah Minimum Regional), which increased by 55% from Rp.550,000 pre-tsunami to Rp.850,000 in 2007, compared with an increase of 42% in neighboring North Sumatra, from Rp.537,000 to Rp.761,000.

Poverty levels increased slightly in Aceh in 2005 after the tsunami, but by less than expected.[57] The poverty level then fell in 2006 to below the pre-tsunami level, suggesting that the rise in tsunami-related poverty was short lived and reconstruction activities and the end of the conflict most probably facilitated this decline. However, poverty in Aceh remains significantly higher than in the rest of Indonesia.[58] A large number of the Acehnese remain vulnerable to poverty, reinforcing the need for further sustained efforts at development in the post-tsunami construction period.[59]


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
1971 2,008,595    
1980 2,611,271+2.96%
1990 3,416,156+2.72%
1995 3,847,583+2.41%
2000 3,930,905+0.43%
2010 4,494,410+1.35%
2014 4,731,705+1.29%
Source: Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Kementerian Kesehatan Estimasi 2014[1]

The population of Aceh was not adequately documented during the Indonesia 2000 census because the insurgency complicated the process of collecting accurate information. An estimated 170,000 people died in Aceh in the 2004 tsunami which further complicates the task of careful demographic analysis. According to the most recent (2010) census, the total population of Aceh in 2010 was 4,486,570.[60]

Ethnic and cultural groups

Aceh is a diverse region occupied by several ethnic and language groups. The major ethnic groups are the Acehnese (who are distributed throughout Aceh), Gayo (in central and eastern part), Alas (in Southeast Aceh Regency), Tamiang-Malays (in Aceh Tamiang Regency), Aneuk Jamee (descendant from Minangkabau, concentrated in southern and southwestern), Kluet (in South Aceh Regency), and Simeulue (on Simeulue Island). There is also a significant population of Chinese, who are influential in the business and financial communities. Among the present day Acehnese can be found some individuals of Arab, Turkish, and Indian descent.

The Acehnese language is widely spoken within the Acehnese population. This is a member of the Aceh-Chamic group of languages, whose other representatives are mostly found in Vietnam and Cambodia, and is also closely related to the Malay group of languages. Acehnese also has many words borrowed from Malay and Arabic and traditionally was written using Arabic script. Acehnese is also used as local language in Langkat and Asahan (North Sumatra), and Kedah (Malaysia), and once dominated Penang. Alas and Kluet are closely related languages within the Batak group. The Jamee language originated from Minangkabau language in West Sumatra, with just a few variations and differences.


According to 2010 census of the Central Statistics Agency, Muslims dominate Aceh with more than 98% or 4,413,200 followers and only 50,300 Protestants and 3,310 Catholics.[61] Religious issues are often sensitive in Aceh. There is very strong support for Islam across the special region, and sometimes other religious groups – such as Christians or Buddhists – feel that they are subject to social or community pressure to limit their activities. The official explanation for this action, supported by both the Governor of Aceh Zaini Abdullah and the Indonesian Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi from Jakarta, was that the churches did not have the appropriate permits. Earlier in April 2012, a number of churches in the Singkil regency in southern Aceh had also been ordered to close.[62] In response, some Christians voiced concern about these actions. In 2015 a church was burned down and another attacked in which a Muslim rioter was shot, causing president Joko Widodo to call for calm.[63]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Estimasi Penduduk Menurut Umur Tunggal Dan Jenis Kelamin 2014 Kementerian Kesehatan
  2. Aris Ananta; Evi Nurvidya Arifin; M. Sairi Hasbullah; Nur Budi Handayani; dan Agus Pramono (2015). Demography of Indonesia’s Ethnicity. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies dan BPS – Statistics Indonesia.
  3. How An Escape Artist Became Aceh's Governor, Time Magazine, 15 February 2007
  4. Map of areas with Sharia influence in law.
  5. United Nations. Economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific 2005. 2005, page 172
  6. Daniel Perret (24 February 2007). "Aceh as a Field for Ancient History Studies" (PDF). Asia Research Institute-National University of Singapore. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  7. Reid (1988 and 1993)
  8. Ricklefs (1991), page 4
  9. Ricklefs (1991), page 7
  10. Ricklefs (1991), page 17
    • D. G. E. Hall, A History of South-east Asia. London: Macmillan, 1955.
  11. 1 2 3 Ricklefs, M.C. (2001) A history of modern Indonesia since c.1200. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p 185–188.
  12. Nicholas Tarling, ed. (1992). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia: Volume 2, the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Cambridge U.P. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-521-35506-3.
  13. E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries 1780–1940 (1978) pp 400–401
  14. Linawati Sidarto, 'Images of a grisly past', The Jakarta Post: Weekender, July 2011
  15. Mufti Ali, "A Study of Hasan Mustafa's 'Fatwa: 'It Is Incumbent upon the Indonesian Muslims to be Loyal to the Dutch East Indies Government,'" Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, April 2004, Vol. 52 Issue 2, pp 91–122
  16. Martinkus 2004, p. 47.
  17. Ricklefs 2001, p. 252.
  18. "Tempo: Indonesia's Weekly News Magazine, Volume 3, Issues 43–52" 2003, p. 27.
  19. atjehcyberID. "Sejarah Jejak Perlawanan Aceh". ATJEH CYBER WARRIOR. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  20. "Waspada, Sabtu 17 Maret 2012". Issuu. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  21. "Waspada, Sabtu 17 Maret 2012". Issuu. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  22. "Berita Kadjian Sumatera: Sumatra Research Bulletin, Volumes 1–4" 1971, p. 35.
  23. Nasution 1963, p. 89.
  24. "Sedjarah Iahirnja Tentara Nasional Indonesia" 1970, p. 12.
  25. "20 [i. e Dua puluh] tahun Indonesia merdeka, Volume 7", p. 547.
  26. "Sedjarah TNI-Angkatan Darat, 1945–1965. [Tjet. 1.]" 1965, p. 8.
  27. "20 tahun Indonesia merdeka, Volume 7", p. 545.
  28. Atjeh Post, Minggu Ke III September 1990. halaman I & Atjeh Post, Minggu Ke IV September 1990 halaman I
  29. Jong 2000, p. 189.
  30. 1 2
    • M Nur El-Ibrahimy, Peranan Teungku M. Daud Bereueh dalam Pergolakan di Aceh, 2001.
    • A.H. Nasution, Seputar Perang Kemerdekaan Indonesia, Jilid II, 1977
  31. Banerjee, Neela (2001-06-21). "Lawsuit Says Exxon Aided Rights Abuses". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  32. For details of the impact of the tsunami in Aceh, see Jayasuriya, Sisira and Peter McCawley in collaboration with Bhanupong Nidhiprabha, Budy P. Resosudarmo and Dushni Weerakoon, The Asian Tsunami: Aid and Reconstruction after a Disaster, Cheltenham UK and Northampton MA USA: Edward Elgar and Asian Development Bank Institute, 2010.
  33. Wise, Cat (2011). "Tsunami-Devastated Aceh, an Epicenter of Mental Health Woes". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved from on 13 Apr. 2014
  34. Souza, R., Bernatsky, S., Ryes, R., Jong, K. (2007). "Mental Health Status of Vulnerable Tsunami-Affected Communities: A Survey in Aceh Province, Indonesia". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 20(3), 263–269
  35. Stefan G. Koeberle. "Preliminary Damage and Losses Assessment on". Retrieved 2013-07-13.
  36. "Indonesia Opens Tsunami Museum". The Irrawaddy. March–April 2009: 3.
  37. A very useful and detailed account of the negotiation process from the Indonesian side is in the book by the Indonesian key negotiator, Hamid Awaludin, Peace in Aceh: Notes on the peace process between the Republic of Indonesia and the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM) in Helsinki, translated by Tim Scott, 2009, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta. ISBN 978-979-1295-11-6.
  38. "Asia Times Online :: Southeast Asia news – A happy, peaceful anniversary in Aceh". 2006-08-15. Retrieved 2013-07-13.
  39. Hillman, Ben (2012). "'Power Sharing and Political Party Engineering in Conflict-Prone Societies: The Indonesian Experiment in Aceh". Conflict Security and Development. 12 (2): 149–169. doi:10.1080/14678802.2012.688291.
  40. Author(s): Veena Siddharth, Asia advocacy director (2005-08-27). "Next steps for Aceh after the peace pact | Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 2013-07-13.
  41. 1 2 Simanjuntak, Hotli; Sangaji, Ruslan (20 May 2013). "Scientists urged to stand up for Aceh's biodiversity". The Jakarta Post.
  42. "Gajah Sumatera Hanya Tersisa 460 Ekor di Aceh". 19 August 2014.
  43. McGregor, Andrew (2010). "Green and REDD? Towards a Political Ecology of Deforestation in Aceh, Indonesia". Human Geography. 3 (2): 21–34.
  44. "Aceh: ecological war zone". Down to Earth (47). 2000. Archived from the original on 3 March 2012.
  45. 1 2 The Jakarta Post. "Global calls to save Aceh forest". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  46. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Policing Morality Abuses in the Application of Sharia in Aceh, Indonesia". Human Rights Watch. 2010. pp. 13–17. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  47. Edi Sumardi (December 4, 2014). "Ini Hukuman Bagi Wanita Berpakaian Ketat, Celananya Disemprot Cat".
  48. Rachmadin Ismail (April 14, 2016). "Hukuman Cambuk Pertama Terhadap Non Muslim di Aceh Jadi Sorotan".
  49. Hotli Simanjuntak and Ina Parlina, 'Aceh fully enforces Sharia', The Jakarta Post, 7 February 2014.
  50. 'Six men caned for betting on passing buses in Aceh', The Jakarta Post, 27 August 2015.
  51. Hotli Simanjuntak, 'Dozens of sharia vilators caned in Aceh', The Jakarta Post, 19 September 2015.
  52. Biro Pusat Statistik, Jakarta, 2011.
  53. Indeks-Pembangunan-Manusia-2014
  54. World Bank, Jakarta, Aceh Economic Update November 2007.
  55. World Bank, Jakarta, Aceh Poverty Assessment 2008.
  56. A useful survey of the state of development up to 2010 is in the UNDP Provincial Human Development Report Aceh 2010.
  57. Edward Aspinall, Ben Hillman, and Peter McCawley, Governance and capacity-building in post-crisis Aceh', a report by Australian National University Enterprise, Canberra, for UNDP, Jakarta, 2012.
  58. "Waspada Online". Waspada Online. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  59. "Regent orders churches closed, destroyed in Aceh". Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  60. Bagus BT Saragih, 'Closed churches lack permits: Gamawan', The Jakarta Pose, 25 October 2012.
  61. "Jokowi calls for calm amid clashes in Aceh". Channel NewsAsia. 14 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015.

Further reading

External links

Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Aceh.
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