Yet half a century later, the Indonesian government and its powerful military and security forces have failed to confront the darkest chapter in this country’s history — and in fact continue to actively suppress public discourse about the massacres.
“There’s been no resolutions, no breakthrough and no ideas on how to,” said Haris Azhar, a former coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, an Indonesian nongovernmental organization that documents human rights abuses by the military and the police.
“It’s still a big scar and a big hole for this nation,” he said. “We as a nation need to move forward, but we have to release the burden by having a full, official account of what happened, so we can learn from it and then move forward.”
Credit Associated Press
But the way forward is uncertain. While the main architects are probably dead, the purges remain taboo because the military, the political parties and the Islamic religious groups implicated in the violence are part of the political elite, according to analysts.
Soldiers and military-backed civilian, paramilitary and religious groups carried out the massacres, which came on the heels of a failed uprising within the Indonesian armed forces. An officer-led group kidnapped and executed six army generals beginning on the night of Sept. 30, 1965.
Within days, top commanders had quashed the uprising, which they called an attempted coup orchestrated by the then-powerful Indonesian Communist Party, working with rogue military personnel. In the purges that came after, the victims were branded as communists who sought to topple the government, but they also included intellectuals, ethnic Chinese Indonesians, members of student and teacher unions, artists and countless others.
The killings were overseen by Suharto, an army general who went on to become the country’s president and who presided over an authoritarian, military-backed government for 32 years.
Suharto was forced to resign in 1998 after mass pro-democracy demonstrations, and he died in 2008. However, the Indonesian Communist Party remains banned in Indonesia, and discussion of the 1965-66 massacres is still taboo.
Joko Widodo, the first Indonesian president to come from outside the military and traditional political elite, pledged during his 2014 election campaign to resolve the anti-communist purges through an inquiry.
Yet aside from endorsing a public symposium on the issue that was held last year, Mr. Joko’s government has done nothing to investigate the mass killings.
“This most recent incident, and other similar incidents, puts to mind the fact that the Indonesian government and powerful elements inside and outside the government are implacably opposed to any sort of accountability for hundreds of thousands of deaths,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, referring to the siege on the Jakarta art show.
Noting that Mr. Joko is expected to seek re-election in 2019, he added: “It appears that the Joko government is making a political calculation that advocating for accountability for 1965-66 opens a potentially damaging Pandora’s box that does not benefit powerful players in Indonesia. Time has basically run out.”
Credit Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times
Johan Budi, a spokesman for the Indonesian president, declined to comment on what steps his government was taking to give a full accounting of the massacres.
Officials at Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, which for more than a year has been tasked with giving Mr. Joko recommendations on how to account for the purges, did not answer telephone calls or reply to text messages.
While attempts to discuss the massacres are often met with silence or warnings in Indonesia, a pair of documentaries in recent years has managed to bring awareness of the killings to a worldwide audience. In 2014, “The Look of Silence,” a documentary about the purge’s victims confronting their tormentors was nominated for an Academy Award.
The film’s American-born director, Joshua Oppenheimer, was also nominated for an Academy Award for his 2012 documentary, “The Act of Killing,” in which he cataloged the lives of Indonesians who actively took part in the mass killings.
Mr. Oppenheimer, in a telephone interview from Europe, said that while he does not think the Indonesian people believe in the anti-communist hysteria that has gripped the country in recent weeks, they are “scared of what lies behind the propaganda of communism.”
“It means that the military, the oligarchs who hire the military to do their dirty work, the thugs that the military in turn hires to do its dirty work, all keep the specter of communism alive and anti-communism alive to intimidate the public and hide their crimes,” he said.
Bedjo Untung, chairman of the Indonesian Institute for the Study of the 1965-66 Massacre, a nongovernment organization, said he was not giving up hope that the Indonesian government would one day open a formal inquiry.
“I still have an optimistic view,” said Mr. Bedjo, who was imprisoned for most of the 1970s after a student group he belonged to was accused of being linked to the Indonesian Communist Party. “If not tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow, or whenever.”
“One day, I hope it will happen,” he said.