Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Battle of Surabaya 1945

Hotel Majapahit, named after the last major Hindu Empire of the Malay archipelago, was built in 1910 by the famous Armenian Sarkies brothers, who also built the Strand in Rangoon, the Eastern & Oriental in Penang and Raffles in Singapore.The Sarkies brothers - Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak who originated from Isfahan in Persia, became the foremost hoteliers of the East, their enterprises in Penang and Singapore dominating the hospitality trade in the Straits Settlements for nearly fifty years. The 23-year-old Tigran took the first step into the hotel industry, seeing it as more profitable than his fledgling auctioneering business. He took over the lease of a large compound house at 1A Light Street and named it the Eastern Hotel. It was onward and upwards for the Sarkies brothers' hotel chain from then on.

Designed in traditional Dutch style, the Majapahit Hotel was originally named the Oranje Hotel and later became known as the Yamato Hotel during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II.

The hotel was the site of the famous Insiden Hotel Yamato, where on September 19, 1945 a group of Dutch internees, supported by the Japanese, raised the Dutch Flag outside the Yamato Hotel.

This provoked the Nationalist Indonesian militia (NIM) in a clash with the Dutch and Japanese at the hotel grounds, where the blue part of the Dutch flag was torn off in an effort to change it to the flag of Indonesia.

Earlier, on August 17, 1945 Soekarno had declared the independence of Indonesia in Jakarta two days after the Japanese Emperors' surrender in the Pacific. As the news of the declaration of independence spread throughout the archipelago, Indonesians welcomed the new sense of freedom after a long period of colonial control. In the following weeks, power vacuums existed, both from outside and within Indonesia, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, but also one of opportunity.

The Battle of Surabaya ensued between pro-Independence Indonesian soldiers and militia against British and Dutch troops as a part of the Indonesian National Revolution in October 1945.

The battle came to a head in November 1945. Despite fierce resistance, British and Indian troops, on behalf of the Netherlands, engaged in infantry and air strike assault and managed to take Surabaya from the NIM. At least 6,000 Indonesians died and more than 200,000 fled the devastated city. British and Indian casualties totalled approximately 600.

The determination of the rag-tag nationalist forces and their bravery against such odds became a symbol and rallying cry for the Revolution. The turning point was ironic. The British were reluctant to be drawn into a another war due to the strain of limited resources in South East Asia. It was a watershed for the Dutch who conceded to the people power of the day.

In tribute to the sacrifice made by the brave nationalists of Surabaya, November 10 is celebrated by the nation as Hari Pahlawan or Heroes' Day.
The Majapahit Hotel stands as a reminder of the struggle for freedom as well as its rich cultural heritage. It is now managed by the Mandarin Oriental Group, who have restored the building to its former glory.

Art Deco lobby
Original stain-glass windows

Dutch Chandelier

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