12 November 1991

Indonesian forces open fire on a crowd of student protesters in Dili, East Timor.


The Santa Cruz massacre was the shooting of at least 250 East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators in the Santa Cruz cemetery in the capital, Dili, on 12 November 1991, during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and is part of the East Timorese genocide.

During a brief confrontation between Indonesian troops and protesters, a number of protesters and a Major, Geerhan Lantara were stabbed. Stahl claimed Lantara had attacked a group of protesters including a girl carrying the flag of East Timor, and FRETILIN activist Constâncio Pinto reported eyewitness accounts of beatings from Indonesian soldiers and police. When the procession entered the cemetery some continued their protests before the cemetery wall. Around 200 more Indonesian soldiers arrived and advanced on the gathering, weapons drawn. Indonesian troops advanced on the gathering enclosed in the graveyard, and opened fire on hundreds of unarmed civilians.

The massacre was witnessed by the two American journalists—Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn—and caught on videotape by Max Stahl, who was filming undercover for Yorkshire Television. As Stahl filmed the massacre, Goodman and Nairn tried to “serve as a shield for the Timorese” by standing between them and the Indonesian soldiers. The soldiers began beating Goodman, and when Nairn moved to protect her, they beat him with their weapons, fracturing his skull. The camera crew managed to smuggle the video footage to Australia.

22 September 1991

The Dead Sea Scrolls are made available to the public.


On this day in 1991, California’s Huntington Library released microfilm of the Dead Sea Scrolls, providing independent researchers with access to a cache of immensely important ancient manuscripts that had hitherto been confined to a small group of scholars.

The Dead Sea Scrolls date from about two thousand years ago. They were found in caves above the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake which is not only the world’s saltiest, but also the deepest, and at the lowest elevation, 400 metres below sea level. It is located between Israel and Jordan, where the climate is arid and conducive to the preservation of ancient manuscripts.

The first group of scrolls was discovered in 1947 by a young Bedouin shepherd in search of a lost goat. In a cave, he found jars filled with ancient scrolls and fragments of texts. During the next decade, archaeologists and Bedouins discovered ten additional caves containing ancient manuscripts. Most of the manuscripts were of leather and papyrus. They include all but one of the books of the Old Testament, some almost complete, as well as other fragments in languages including Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. As to the people who hid the scrolls in the caves, one likely theory is that refugees from Jerusalem deposited the scrolls during the Jewish-Roman war.

Many of the longer scrolls were deciphered, published and translated soon after their discovery. However, the more fragmentarily preserved manuscripts were in the hands of an official group of editors who had been assigned to do this work by the governments of Jordan and Israel. Unfortunately, the pace was slow, and access to the manuscripts was limited to the editorial team.

21 August 1991

A coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev fails.


Just three days after it began, the coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev collapses. Despite his success in avoiding removal from office, Gorbachev’s days in power were numbered. The Soviet Union would soon cease to exist as a nation and as a Cold War threat to the United States.

The coup against Gorbachev began on August 18, led by hard-line communist elements of the Soviet government and military. The attempt was poorly planned and disorganized, however. The leaders of the coup seemed to spend as much time bickering among themselves–and, according to some reports, drinking heavily–as they did on trying to win popular support for their action. Nevertheless, they did manage to put Gorbachev under house arrest and demand that he resign from leadership of the Soviet Union.

Many commentators in the West believed that the administration of President George Bush would come to the rescue, but were somewhat surprised at the restrained response of the U.S. government. These commentators did not know that at the time a serious debate was going on among Bush officials as to whether Gorbachev’s days were numbered and whether the United States should shift its support to Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin’s stock rose sharply as he publicly denounced the coup and organized strikes and street protests by the Russian people. The leaders of the coup, seeing that most of the Soviet military did not support their action, called off the attempt and it collapsed on August 21.

The collapse of the coup brought a temporary reprieve to the Gorbachev regime, but among U.S. officials he was starting to be seen as damaged goods. Once a darling of the U.S. press and public, Gorbachev increasingly was viewed as incompetent and a failure. U.S. officials began to discuss the post-Gorbachev situation in the Soviet Union. Based on what had transpired during the August 1991 coup, they began a slow but steady tilt toward Yeltsin. In retrospect, this policy seemed extremely prudent, given that Gorbachev resigned as leader of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Despite the turmoil around him, Yeltsin continued to serve as president of the largest and most powerful of the former soviet socialist republics, Russia.

19 June 1991

The Soviet occupation of Hungary comes to an end.

On this day (19th June) in 1991, the last Soviet troops were withdrawn from Hungary which had been there for 45 years following World War II. The road to this historic moment was not a smooth one, with 45 years of oppression under their belt. The beginning of this process was kickstarted when Janos Kadar was replaced by Karoly Grosz.

When Miklos Nemeth was appointed Prime Minister in November 1988 a democracy package was soon adopted, introducing freedom of association, assembly and press; new electoral law: and a revision of the constitution by January 1989. Mass demonstrations broke out on 15th March, during which the people called for more reforms, which encouraged the beginning of the Round Table talks on the 22nd April with many different parties.

On the 2nd May 1989, the Iron Curtain (a term used to describe the split between the capitalist west and communist east) began to fall when the 150 mile fence between Hungary and Austria began to be removed. This was symbolically shown by the Austrian and Hungarian foreign ministers cutting a section of the fence on the 27th June.

While this was clearly allowing Hungarians to travel to Austria, it also had an effect on communist Eastern Germany, run by Erich Honicker, a hardliner unwilling to install reforms. With Hungary being a popular holiday destination for East Germans, the opening of the border allowed them to flee west. This was especially noticeable during the three hours that opened the border gate between Sankt Margarethen im Burgenland (Austria) to SopronkOhida (Hungary) for the Pan-European picnic on the 19th August, which saw more than 600 East Germans running west.

The Hungarian borders were finally opened with Eastern Germany on 11 September 1989.

28 February 1991

The first Gulf War officially ends.

The Gulf War is a well known conflict that occurred in the early 1990’s between Iraq and a coalition of forces led by the United States. To many the Gulf War is known as the Persian Gulf War, but over time it was abbreviated by dropping the word Persian at the start.The Gulf War started on August 2nd in the year 1990 and officially finished on February 28th 1991, although the conflict carried on for another four years thereafter.

After the Iran-Iraq War the country of Iraq was essentially bankrupt. This position meant that Iraq asked for fellow countries Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to forgive the debt it owed to them as payment for Iraq stopping Iran from pushing its way through the Middle East. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait declined and said they still wanted payment which infuriated Iraq.Iraq also believed that Kuwait was drilling for more oil than its allowed OPEC quota, thus driving the price of oil to really low levels. This compounded Iraq economic issues further because the Iraq economy was heavily reliant on oil as its means of export.

Iraq went further in asking for countries to reduce their quotas to drive up oil prices so it could bolster the Iraqi economy, Kuwait responded by asking if they could increase their quota by 50%. Iraq was incensed by this move.
Further to all of this Iraq was also lodging a complaint that Kuwait was drilling at an angle over the Iraqi border thus stealing Iraqi oil too, something that threatened tensions further.


16 January 1991

The Gulf War begins.

At midnight in Iraq, the United Nations deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expires, and the Pentagon prepares to commence offensive operations to forcibly eject Iraq from its five-month occupation of its oil-rich neighbor. At 4:30 p.m. EST, the first fighter aircraft were launched from Saudi Arabia and off U.S. and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf on bombing missions over Iraq. All evening, aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere. At 7:00 p.m., Operation Desert Storm, the code-name for the massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, was formally announced at the White House.

The operation was conducted by an international coalition under the command of U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf and featured forces from 32 nations, including Britain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. During the next six weeks, the allied force engaged in a massive air war against Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure, and encountered little effective resistance from the Iraqi air force or air defenses. Iraqi ground forces were helpless during this stage of the war, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s only significant retaliatory measure was the launching of SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that the missile attacks would provoke Israel to enter the conflict, thus dissolving Arab support of the war. At the request of the United States, however, Israel remained out of the war.

12 November 1991


Indonesian armed forces open fire on a crowd of student protesters in Dili, East Timor in what become known as the Santa Cruz massacre.

In response to the UN sponsored delegation due to arrive in East Timor, the Indonesian military began threatening East Timorese. They threatened that whomever spoke out against Indonesia would be killed and massacres would be staged. Despite that the UN delegation never arrived in East Timor the Indonesian army staged a massacre anyway.

On November 12, 1991, over 270 East Timorese were massacred at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, by Indonesian troops. The civilians were participating in a memorial precession honoring the death of Sebastio Gomez, a young man slain by the Indonesian military.

The Indonesian troops participating in the massacre were backed by US support. The M-16 rifles used at Santa Cruz were provided by the US and the Indonesian military who led the attack were trained by the US. However, when the United States and the rest of the international community received news of the massacre at Santa Cruz the US and its allies doubled their military aid to Indonesia.

The massacre at Santa Cruz in 1991 sparked grassroots activists in the US to begin pushing Congress to cut off military training and support for Indonesia. Eventually the US Congress suspended defense training and military aid to Indonesia, however, many more Timorese were killed before this occurred.