The island of Timor, during the recent ice age, was one of the most important land areas over which Australia was populated some 50,000 years ago. While Australia and New Guinea formed a contiguous land area, the Sahul, as well as the Indonesian island world with Southeast Asia, Timor remained an island due to the deeper, surrounding waters, Wallacea. In order to get to Sahul, the first people have to cross a 90 km wide sound, which means that some kind of sea-going craft was used so early. Root fruit growing farmers established themselves in Timor in the 3000s BC, with significant bargains in i.e. Bui Ceri Uato and Lie Siri in East Timor.
The island of Timor was first visited by Portuguese seafarers in the early 16th century. However, no permanent settlement was established until 1642. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of East Timor. The current capital Dili was founded in 1769. The stubborn Timorese resistance to the Portuguese presence reached its peak with the 1910-12 uprising led by Dom Boaventura.
Only after the suppression of this uprising did Portugal succeed in creating an administrative unit of the entire territory. The border with the West Timor ruled by the Netherlands was established in 1914. During most of the 20th century, East Timor was largely isolated from the outside world. The major exception was 1942and45, when East Timor was occupied by Japan. Dili was repeatedly bombed by Allied air forces and almost completely destroyed.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about East Timor. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
After World War II, Dili was rebuilt and an increasing proportion of the native elite’s children had to undergo schooling. A few of these were offered to study further at universities in Portugal. It was among this young, native elite that during the early 1970s thoughts of independence arose. Since the old regime in Portugal was overthrown in a peaceful revolution in 1974, a number of political parties were formed in East Timor.
The two largest parties, Fretilin and UDT, advocated independence, while Apodeti worked for integration with Indonesia. At the same time, Indonesia launched the so-called Operasi Komodo (‘Operation Dragon’), whose aim was to incorporate East Timor with Indonesia through a combination of political and military means.
Influenced by threats and promises from Indonesia, the UDT launched a coup against Fretilin in August 1975. This led to a brief but bloody civil war that ended with the loss of the UDT troops.
Faced with the threat of an impending Indonesian invasion, East Timor declared independence on November 28, 1975. A few nations were able to recognize the new state formation before East Timor was invaded by Indonesia on December 7, 1975. Fretilin retreated to the mountains and began successfully under his armed branch Falintil. resistance.
In June 1976, East Timor was formally annexed as Indonesia’s 27th province by the government of Jakarta, an annexation never recognized by the UN. Occupation time became one of the greatest human disasters in modern history. Human rights organizations estimate that up to 200,000 people have died as a direct or indirect consequence of the intensive warfare in 1975-79.
From 1981, the resistance under Xanana Gusmão was reorganized to involve large sections of the civilian population. A complicated network united the residents of villages and towns with the armed guerrillas in the mountains, and this network then contacted a small number of East Timorese politicians in exile, the most famous of which is Jos谷 Ramos-Horta.
The armed resistance was given an increasingly symbolic role. It also got the Catholic Church, whose membership increased from 28 percent of the population in 1973 to 81 percent in 1989. For many East Timorese, becoming a Catholic meant reinforcing one’s own identity vis-角-vis the predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Since East Timor was opened to foreign visitors in 1989, the resistance was often manifested in demonstrations.
On such an occasion in Dili on November 12, 1991, a large number of protesters were massacred by police and military. This was filmed by a foreign journalist. The film caused great consternation when it was shown on TV worldwide and led to the East Timor issue, ie. the conflict over East Timor’s political affiliation, for the first time received a great deal of international attention. This attention culminated when Ramos-Horta and East Timor’s Catholic bishop, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.
The external pressure on the Indonesian government to seek a solution to the conflict grew stronger, and since Suharto resigned as president in May 1998, events followed closely. Under its new president, Bacharuddin Jussuf Habibie, Indonesia signed an agreement on 5 May 1999 with Portugal and the UN on the forms of referendum.
On August 30, 1999, 78.5 percent of East Timorans voted for independence. As a result, the pro-Indonesian militia, supported and armed by the Indonesian military, launched an extensive wave of violence, killing more than 1,000 people and destroying 70% of East Timor’s infrastructure.
Over 250,000 of the population fled across the border to West Timor. Following international pressure, Indonesia accepted the presence of an international force, which quickly restored calm. Under UN supervision, a legislative assembly could then be elected on August 30, 2001. Xanana Gusmão was elected president on April 14, 2002. By then, about 200,000 of the refugees had returned to East Timor. On May 20, 2002, East Timor gained formal independence.
Developments in the new nation, one of Asia’s poorest, have since been characterized by slow economic growth, fueled by political crises. In March 2006, a third of the country’s military forces were dismissed after protesting against perceived regional discrimination.
Parts of the country’s military and police forces took sides for either party in the conflict, resulting in armed fighting. The crisis spread to the street level after armed youth gangs attacked each other and burned a large number of houses, mainly in the capital Dili. The violence resulted in over 100,000 Timorians becoming internally displaced, most in UNHCR-administered camps in Dili.
Xanana Gusmão declared a state of emergency and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned; the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Defense were dismissed. Jos谷 Ramos-Horta assumed the position of Prime Minister. Ramos-Horta and Gusmão had to change roles in 2007 since Ramos-Horta won the presidential election in May and Gusmão became prime minister after a contentious parliamentary election, with Fretilin becoming the single largest party but where Gusmão represented a coalition of parties that together received a majority of the votes.
The difficult government formation gave rise to unrest, and the dissatisfaction within Fretilin was great. In February 2008, Ramos-Horta and Gusmão were subjected to attempted murder in an alleged coup attempt. Gusmão did well, but Ramos-Horta was badly injured. During the hunt for the assailants, a new state of emergency was introduced in the country. After care in Australia, Ramos-Horta could return to the presidency.
In March 2012, presidential elections were held, and Ramos-Horta ran for re-election. However, he lost already in the first round of elections. The winner of the election was former defense chief Taur Matan Ruak. He took office in May of that year.
The UN peacekeeping forces left the country in 2012, and the 2017 presidential election became the first to be held without its presence. Former Guerrilla soldier Francisco Guterres won the presidential election and took office May 20.