A thesis exploring the Indonesian military’s role in the 1965–66 genocide in Indonesia has won the Asian Studies Association of Australia’s most prestigious award.
The 2016 ASAA Presidents’ Prize for the best thesis on Asia conferred in 2015 has been awarded to Dr Jess Melvin, University of Melbourne, for her dissertation entitled ‘Mechanics of mass murder: how the Indonesian military initiated and implemented the Indonesian genocide—the case of Aceh’.
The judging committee said Dr Melvin’s thesis removed any remaining doubt about the key role of the Indonesian military in the planning and implementation of the genocide
Drawing on hundreds of military documents and over 70 field interviews, Dr Melvin’s dissertation, the judges said, provided the first ever chronology of how violence unfolded in Indonesia’s northernmost province and, most significantly, the manner in which it was a coordinated, national campaign.
‘It demonstrates that the military was central to planning the violence and that the chaos was not, as is often presented, a result of a spontaneous reaction by civilian militia,’ the judges said.
‘Dr Melvin has expertly documented how the army prepared civilian militia groups to attack the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) on the pretext of an impending conflict with neighbouring Malaysia.’
Dr Melvin’s research in Aceh uncovered rare military documents from regional archives and new testimonies from survivors, including PKI members and members of other associated organisations.
‘Melvin reveals the mechanics, planning and implementation of violence by the state and in so doing identifies broader patterns of power and control identifiable in other nations around the world,’ the judges said.
The committee awarded the runner’s-up prize to Dr Le Hoang Ngoc Yen, of the Australian National University, for her thesis on leprosy in Vietnam.
Titled ‘Living leprosy in Vietnam: care, affliction and agency in the shadows of a cure’, Dr Le’s thesis is based on a detailed ethnographic study of the life experiences of people living in one of the largest communities of leprosy sufferers in Vietnam—Quy Hòa Leprosy Village.
Her thesis explores the disease in its full medical, cultural, social and economic contexts and shows that communities of sufferers build productive identities while facing discrimination and stigma.
For her prizewinning thesis, Dr Melvin will receive an award of $2,000 and a $500 book voucher from DK Book Agency.
As runner-up, Dr Le will receive $1,000.