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Dreaming Kurdistan

The Life and Death of Kurdish Leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

Carol Prunhuber

A thorough work of contemporary history and a distillation of the complex web of the Iranian Kurdish political world, this biography of Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou depicts the character and passionate action of one of the twentieth century’s most exceptional and democratic leaders of a national movement.

Carol Prunhuber, who knew Ghassemlou from the early 1980s, shows us the many facets of a humanist leader of magnitude and worldwide scope. From revolution that toppled the Shah to the dark and treacherous alleys of the Cold War, Dreaming Kurdistan revives the Kurdish leader’s fated path to assassination in Vienna. We know how, why, and who murdered Ghassemlou—and we stand witness to Austria’s raison d’état, the business interests that put a lid on the investigation, and the response of silent indifference from the international community.

Professor of economics in Prague, bon vivant in Paris, clandestine freedom fighter in the Kurdish mountains, stalked by the Shah’s secret police, Ghassemlou is ultimately assassinated by the hit men of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. Prunhuber takes us, through a murky world of equivocal liaisons, complicities, treachery, and undisguised threats, from Tehran to Vienna.

While the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to perturb and defy the West, Dreaming Kurdistan is essential for an understanding of Iran and the Kurds’ longing for freedom and democracy.

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5. Politics, Religion, and Land Reform


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There were two Sunni clerics at the daftar, Ahmad Darvishi and Khalid Azizi. They were both mullahs who had embraced the nationalist Kurdish party with all the consequences this political stance implied. For many years, they had rebelled against the oppression of the Kurds.

Both were born near Urmia in northern Iran, the land of Ghassemlou’s clan. When they were children, they had been sent far away to complete their clerical studies.

“When we were studying, there were no public schools that served the human culture, the Kurds, or Kurdistan,” said Darvishi, who was fifty-two years old. “Neither the government nor the feudal lords had any interest in having the Kurds study. Whenever we received a letter, we had to go from village to village to find someone who knew how to read.1

“Our ancestors,” he continued, “tell us that a humanist person from Reza Shah’s time came to Azerbaijan and told the feudal lord named Nuri Beg to build schools, and they would send him teachers. Nuri Beg answered, ‘It’s not right for the Kurds to be literate, because then they will obey neither you nor us. An illiterate person is like a dead person, and that is why they can be controlled. If a person is instructed, the person becomes alive, and will not obey when he thinks something is not right. As long as the Kurds remain illiterate,...

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