When “Apa Dollah” Throws Soldiers with Milkfish [A Story]

Taufik Al Mubarak
6 min readJun 24, 2021

This story is inspired by a true story that happened in Aceh when the area nicknamed the Veranda of Mecca was imposed with the status of a Military Operations Area (DOM).

The scenery in my hometown. [private collection]

IF there is a story that still makes me laugh out loud to this day, then it is the story about Apa Dollah (not real name). It’s just that lately I’ve never laughed at his ‘silliness’ again, especially after hearing how he escaped to Medan. He did this when the government held a red net operation to crush the Security Disruption Movement (GPK, the government’s name for Hasan Tiro’s group). Not many young men his age dared to defy death by secretly leaving their hometown at that time.

As we know, since 1989, the atmosphere in the villages in Aceh, especially in the three areas labeled red, has not been good: Pidie, North Aceh, and East Aceh. [At that time, Pidie Jaya, Bireuen, Lhokseumawe, and Langsa cities had not yet been born. If I remember correctly, the division of the region was only carried out after the reformation]. Many community members choose to migrate outside the region or study at traditional Islamic boarding schools. You see, staying in the village means being ready to accept all the consequences: being beaten, killed, and/or dead. Such is the risk of living in a war zone.

In the three areas marked with red labels, the penetration of military power, especially from the elite Kopassus troops, was felt. The military operation codenamed red net operation made the villages in the three areas feel like they had their own ‘army’. Yes, each village gets 12 military personnel. They usually occupy a warehouse in the meunasah area or an empty house left by the owner. At least that’s what I saw in my village, and maybe it’s the same with other villages in the three red areas.

At first glance, the presence of these troops was able to provide a sense of security for the villagers, especially in the early days of their existence. They seemed friendly with the residents: greeting each time they passed the guard post or when they passed women who had just returned from the fields. For soldiers who are Muslim, often become worshipers for the Maghrib prayers, occasionally there are those who act as imams. Oh yes, at that time only Maghrib prayers were held in the congregation.