Dreaming Kurdistan

The Life and Death of Kurdish Leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

by Carol Prunhuber (Author)
©2019 Monographs XXII, 540 Pages


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.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Dreaming Kurdistan
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Prologue
  • Part I. The Crime
  • 1. Meeting in Vienna
  • 2. A Fearless Man
  • 3. The Intermediary
  • 4. The Murderers
  • Part II. God’s Revolution
  • 1. Mofsed-e-filarz
  • 2. Shah Raft! Shah Raft!
  • 3. Kurdistan or Ghabrestan!
  • 4. Mahabad, Nationalist City
  • 5. Peasants and Aghas
  • 6. The Three-Month War
  • Part III. Orphans of the Universe
  • 1. Kurdistan at War
  • 2. The French Connection
  • 3. Iranian Offensive
  • 4. Journey to the Mountains
  • 5. Politics, Religion, and Land Reform
  • Part IV. Rahman the Kurd
  • 1. Sons of Simko
  • 2. Rifts and Rivalries
  • 3. A Revolutionary Vision
  • Part V. The Investigation and the Aftermath
  • 1. After the Crime
  • 2. Stunned
  • 3. Ben Bella Accuses
  • 4. Two Police Reports
  • 5. Winter in Vienna
  • 6. The Assassins
  • 7. The Conversation
  • 8. Creaking on the Floor
  • 9. Cobra II
  • 10. An Unfinished Story
  • Epilogue: The Closing of the Circle
  • Simko
  • Acknowledgments
  • Glossary
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Timeline: Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou and the PDKI
  • Timeline: Historical Events and Geopolitical Context
  • Appendix: Austrian Police Reports
  • Index

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It was in Paris, in 1983, that I first met Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. We were introduced at the Kurdish Institute, where I was attending an art exhibition with Kurdish filmmaker Yilmaz Güney and his wife, Fatosh, from Turkey.

I had met Güney at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982. That year he had won the Palme d’Or, the Golden Palm award, and the publicity that followed brought worldwide attention to the plight of the Kurdish nation. As a Venezuelan journalist, my limited impression of the Kurds was that they were fierce warriors who lived in unknown and distant mountains somewhere in the Middle East. Yilmaz Güney taught me about the free-spirited Kurdish people, opening my eyes to the oppression they had endured for centuries. Their situation touched me deeply and I began to write articles on the Kurds for Venezuelan newspapers and magazines.

One year later in Paris, I found myself standing face-to-face with this sophisticated, charming, and charismatic Middle Eastern leader of millions of Kurds in Iran. Ghassemlou spoke nine languages with ease. He began reciting Sufi poets like Hafiz and Rumi in Farsi and then seamlessly rendered them in French. I was struck by his knowledge of Western art and culture. To the assembled group, he described his life in the mountains alongside his people. That evening Ghassemlou was the center of attention with his powerful presence, broad smile, and refined sense of humor.

After our meeting in Paris, Ghassemlou invited me to come to Kurdistan. Two years later, I arrived there alongside the French Gamma TV crew to film the Kurdish conflict in Iran. The seed for this book was planted at that time.

Once I saw the Kurdish people up close and the promise that Ghassemlou presented to this war-torn land, the Kurds began to occupy an endearing place in my being. When I showed him a eulogy I had written for Güney after his death, Ghassemlou turned to me and said: “When I die, I would like you to write a book, telling the story of my life and the Kurdish cause.” ← ix | x →

Thanks to the towering mountains they call home, the Kurdish people have survived persecution for centuries. This stateless nation, with its people numbering approximately thirty million1 or more, is a territory that spans nearly five hundred thousand square kilometers. Their homeland stretches across five countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Armenia.

A view long held in Kurdish culture is that their lineage descends from the guardians of the sacred fire that burned in Zoroaster’s temple. The Kurds trace their origins to ancient Mesopotamia, a conviction that finds support from Sumerian textual evidence.2 They are not Arabic, but belong to the Indo-European family. They are not of Semitic origin, nor related to the Turks who came from Central Asia. Their language belongs to the Iranian branch of Indo-European and is, for some specialists, a derivation of Avestan, the ancient language through which Zoroaster transmitted his teachings.

The legend that the Kurdish epic, the Sheref Nameh (“Splendors of the Kurdish Nation”),3 recounts was written in Farsi toward the end of the sixteenth century. It describes the origin of these fearless, freedom-loving mountain people.

The tyrant Zohak, fifth king of a mythological Iranian dynasty, terrorized the populace under his rule. In turn, he suffered a dreadful affliction: two serpents sprang from his shoulders and were fed daily with the brains of two children. To avoid extermination, the subjugated citizens decided to dupe the tyrant by mixing the brain of a boy with the brain of a lamb and offering half of this mixture to each serpent. In this way, every day one young person survived and escaped to the mountains, where they perpetuated the Kurdish people. This myth in some way set the tone for the survival of the Kurds for hundreds of years to come.

Moving from mythic to historical times: in the seventh century C.E. Arab armies, energized by Muhammad’s unifying message, exploded out of Arabia into the sprawling empires and hinterlands of the Middle East. In a resistance that was more sociocultural than religious, Kurdish tribes managed to hold off the Arabs for nearly one hundred years before yielding to the inevitable.4 “All methods were used to coax the Kurds and convert them to Islam,” reports Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris—“even, for example, the matrimonial strategy: the mother of the last Omayyad caliph, Marwan Hakim, was Kurdish.”5

After their century of fierce opposition, the Kurds accepted Islam without thereby being “Arabized”;6 the majority converted to Sunni Islam. But ← x | xi → there would be no peace for the Kurds. The medieval and modern eras would see a series of incursions that would subject their lands to centuries of life under foreign rule: Seljuk Turks, Mongols, Persian Safavids, and the Ottoman Empire.7

Half a millennium later, in 1187 C.E., the Kurds stepped into the spotlight of history when Saladin—a Kurdish warrior, and the great hero of the Crusades—wrested Jerusalem from the Franks, ending nearly ninety years of Western control.8 Saladin emerged from his successful challenge to the Western champion, Richard the Lionheart, to assume leadership of the Muslim world. The lineage he founded, the Ayyubid dynasty (1169–1250), would carry his authority forward for nearly a century, embracing not only Kurdistan but Syria, Egypt, and even Yemen.

By the end of the thirteenth century, however, the Kurdish homelands were invaded once more, this time by Mongols and Turks intent upon control of the treasured commercial routes—especially those for silks and spices. In the sixteenth century, the Kurdish lands became a tempting target in the game of empires between Persians and Ottomans. Persia’s Safavid shah, having imposed Shi’a Islam in his domain, moved vigorously outward. But the Ottomans, alarmed at the Persian expansion, pushed back; to secure their Iranian border and leave themselves free to pursue their own military ambitions against the Arabs, they invited Kurdish feudal lords to an alliance. This alliance would be not only military, but also religious: Sunni Kurds and Ottomans, allied against Shi’ite Safavids.

Caught between the two superpowers of the day, the Kurds, with their patchwork of fiefdoms, chiefdoms, and small kingdoms, had no chance of survival as a free people. The choice they faced was stark, but clear: the clear and present danger of Persian annexation, or accepting Ottoman suzerainty with its promise of an essentially autonomous self-rule.9

“This particular status,” observes Kendal Nezan, “was to assure Kurdistan about three centuries of peace,” and would function “without any major hitch” until the outset of the eighteenth century. Those centuries of peace witnessed a flowering of Kurdish creativity in literature, music, and culture; it was this golden era that saw the composition of the epic Sheref Nameh in 1596.10

When, moving forward into the modern era, both the Ottomans and the Persians began to consolidate as states, this political shift provoked a chain reaction in the Kurds; they saw that their own sovereignty was threatened.11 In 1638 the shah of Persia and the Ottoman sultan signed an agreement that legalized the first division of Kurdistan between their empires. Since that day, ← xi | xii → Kurdistan has been an object of plunder. The Kurds today have become the most populated nation in the world without an indigenous state.

The Kurdish question is similar to that confronting modern-day Palestinians and Armenians; for each of these peoples, the challenges today took shape with the fall of the Ottoman Empire when, at the end of World War I, the victors divided the Middle East among themselves. The Treaty of Sèvres, in 1920, promised the Kurds an autonomous regime, but the Treaty of Lausanne, in 1923, deprived them of it.

Since then the Kurds have remained the targeted interest both of regional ruling regimes and of world powers. The reason for this is simple: beneath the arid soil of their mountains lies an ocean of oil. Because of this twenty-first-century goldmine, no one has been ready or willing to concede nationhood to the Kurds, nor the usufruct of their resources. In Kurdistan too are enormous reserves of water that, in the near future, will surely prove to be of greater value even than oil for the region and the world.

Over the centuries, multiple forces, circumstances, and competing interests have dragged the Kurds into internal strife. Even today they continue to be divided. They have been in conflict among themselves in an endless round of internecine feud. This seemingly permanent state of division, combined with their tribal traditions and fierce independence, has brought particularly ruthless repression from the governments of countries where they live.

Consider the experience of the Kurds in Turkey. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Turkish nationalist leaders deported 700,000 Kurds from their home region. Again in Turkey between 1925 and 1939, the Kurds were once more forced to leave their land. This systematic dispersion of the Kurdish population was interrupted by World War I. Since then, Ankara has denied the Kurds’ cultural identity, considering them to be “Mountain Turks.” For forty-nine years of the existence of the Turkish Republic, the Kurds have been under a state of emergency. It was only in 2003 that martial law was lifted in Turkish Kurdistan.12 In 2008, the Turkish parliament at last authorized national radio and television channels to broadcast programs in Kurdish, twenty-four hours a day; however, the content is limited to news, music, and offerings about traditional culture. In 2012, schools were allowed to teach Kurdish language as an optional course. Kurds in Turkey are free to speak their native tongue. Despite these openings, however, the Kurds are still not recognized as a minority in Turkey with full cultural expression, rights, or political autonomy. And even with this loosening of official strictures on Kurdish ← xii | xiii → culture since 1991, the release of imprisoned Kurdish political activists, and other minimal cultural reforms, violence and discrimination against them has not completely ceased.

Since 2014 the Turkish government’s alleged relations with the Islamic State (ISIS) and the blind eye it has turned toward the movement of ISIS jihadists back and forth across its border13 have provoked mounting anger among its Kurdish population and put at risk a dialogue with the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, begun in 2013. A fragile ceasefire brokered between Turkey and the PKK was terminated in July 2015, and as of 2018 Turkey has been making incursions against Kurdish enclaves in Syria.

In Iraq as well, the Kurds have undergone tremendous tribulation. Saddam Hussein’s regime destroyed more than two thousand villages and deported their inhabitants to the lowlands.14 In 1988 Hussein rained down vengeance on the Kurdish rebellion by attacking the village of Halabja with toxic gas, causing the death of five thousand people. In the wake of the Gulf War of 1991, the Iraqi army marched on Kurdistan, provoking one of the largest population exoduses in contemporary history.

With the support of the Allied U.S.-British air force, in 1991 the United States created a safe haven as a no-fly zone that protected the Kurds in Iraq from attacks by the Iraqi regime. Soon after, United Nations Security Council resolution 688 condemned “the repression of the Iraqi civilian population . . . in Kurdish populated areas” and demanded an end to this policy.15 In 1992, the Iraqi Kurds, by popular vote, created the Kurdistan Regional Government with an elected parliament. Yet the two main Kurdish parties—the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani—battled each other in what amounted to a civil war from 1994 to 1998, when the United States facilitated a ceasefire. Since then the parties have shared governance of the Kurdistan Region. With peace, and a growing prosperity from oil-sale revenues granted by Iraq after 1995, the Kurdistan Region saw an unprecedented cultural and democratic flourishing with the growth of universities, an efficient political administration, and institutions that could assure a stable economy.

The twenty-first century has brought Kurds both further political presence in Iraq and increasing recognition on the international scene. The primary Kurdish parties supported the coalition led by the United States against Saddam Hussein and the Iraq invasion of 2003. In 2005 a new constitution was adopted in Iraq; elections were held, and Jalal Talabani became president, ← xiii | xiv → while Masoud Barzani was elected president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The Kurdistan Regional Government, despite tension due to political and economic disagreements with the central government in Baghdad, developed in relative tranquility compared with the rest of present-day Iraq until the summer of 2014, when ISIS, the Islamic State, took over Mosul and other key cities. Thousands fled as the forces of ISIS killed, raped, and tortured innocent civilians, and continued their advance toward Baghdad and other territories in western Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga (literally those “who walk in front of death,” voluntary military forces) took control of the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds considered their capital.

The KRG dispatched peshmerga to northern Syria and Iraq to fight against ISIS, with limited support from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. The Islamic Republic of Iran also provided weapons and training to the Kurdish forces as well as funding, training, and military advisors to the Iraqi military offensive against ISIS.

The Kurdish peshmerga have been known for their bravery and ferocity in battle. After an initial setback in the battle with ISIS in Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga forced ISIS to retreat from strategic areas and managed to recover lost ground even without the heavy weaponry and ongoing supply of ammunition they requested from the West. In both Iraq and Syria Kurdish peshmerga, with their fighting spirit, became the frontline defense against ISIS advance. Women, too, served in the peshmerga and played a major role in combat, particularly in Syria. The advance of ISIS thrust Iraqi Kurdistan into the limelight of history and the international community, earning their bravery international recognition, especially during the defense of Kobane, a Kurdish town in Syria bordering Turkey.16

Since 2014, in Syria, Kurdish homegrown defense forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have held back ISIS incursions from the Rojava region and maintained control of the majority of cities inhabited by the Kurds. Turkey, which regards the YPG as part of the PKK, has been set on destroying the possibility of Kurds’ having an autonomous region in Syria. In 2018, with the Kurds embroiled in the fierce battle with Isis, Turkish forces allied with Syrian rebels—Sunni Arabs—overran the Syrian border to occupy the Afrin Kurdish Canton, forcing the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Though supported by the U.S. for their fight against ISIS, at this writing Kurds in Rojava, east of the Euphrates, are potential targets of a full-fledged attack by Turkish forces.17 ← xiv | xv →

In Iran, throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the position of the Kurds has been particularly precarious. For a single shining moment in 1946, during the sociopolitical reshuffling in the postwar Middle East, Iranian Kurdistan carved out a national self-identity and political self-rule as an autonomous state, a democratic republic centered on the city of Mahabad. The achievement, however, was brief; without effective international alliances, the fledgling republic collapsed in the face of Iranian force. The tragic experience of the Democratic Republic of Kurdistan became emblematic, through most of the rest of the twentieth century, for the continuing fate of Kurdish nationalists. The preeminent Iraqi Kurdish war hero General Mustafa Barzani once characterized the Kurds as “the orphans of the universe.”

This is an appropriate description for a people who have neither a national state nor, until relatively recently, a politically powerful organization in their diaspora. Unlike displaced Armenians or Jews, the Kurds have lacked a lobby abroad. Yet they remain loyal to their cause and their origins. The Kurds are Kurds, and they live in Kurdistan. As Ghassemlou had said, more than once, their only friends are the mountains.

In the case of the Kurds of Iran, they live in the only country in the Middle East besides Egypt that constitutes a true state. At the time when Europe was a patchwork of tribes in conflict with and at times in subjugation to the encroachments of the Roman Empire, Persia was already Persia. Iran and Egypt are the only states, from Morocco to India, that do not owe their borders to the postcolonial division of territory: their roots go back to antiquity. Composed today of a Shi’ite majority and many national minorities—Arabs, Turkmen, Baluchis, Kurds, Assyrians, and Azeris—and religions that include Sunni Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians, Baha’is, and Jews, Iran has long existed as a geopolitical entity.

Iranian history essentially consists of innumerable compromises between the Persians and the Azeri Turks. It is around this balance that the central power is constructed and, aside from a few exceptions, has always governed by coercion. The Persian obsession is to keep the minorities pulled together into the centralized state. When the central power in Iran is weakened, a centrifugal force makes itself felt and the minorities feel tempted to flee from the center. ← xv | xvi →

Ghassemlou reflected much on this unending problem. He recognized that there existed a Kurdish irredentism in the countries where they live; even in the face of long-standing intentions to drown their cultural identity, their language and lifeways are very much alive. And yet despite their centuries of resistance, it is only in the twentieth century that the Kurds as a people have begun to develop a national consciousness. Today it is natural to have a Kurdish demand for independence, for the realization of a national Kurdish project.

An independent Kurdistan, reflected Ghassemlou, would be a state without access to the sea. Yet at the same time, it would be a state rich in oil and, even more importantly, in possession of immense sources of water.

Water is the most critical environmental concern in the Middle East. The future wars in that region will be for water. Without oil, its people are poor; without water, they cannot survive. And the great reserves of water are in Kurdistan.18

Ghassemlou was the first Kurdish leader to elaborate a theory that rests upon a recognition of the geopolitical components that conspire against the creation of a Kurdish state, and that is why he accepted as realistic this more feasible plan: to renounce the immediate drive for independent statehood and choose the path of regional autonomy.

His breadth of vision was recognized beyond his borders. In the eyes, and the words, of Dr. Bernard Kouchner, former French minister of foreign affairs: “He was the only Kurd with an international perspective.”19


In the last half century, the Kurdish world has seen two great political leaders: Mustafa Barzani in Iraq during the sixties and seventies, and in Iran, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in the eighties.

Barzani ended his life in exile in the United States. Ghassemlou, after a decade of resistance to the theocratic regime of Ayatollah20 Khomeini, was brutally murdered by envoys of the Islamic Republic of Iran21 in July 1989, in Vienna—where he had traveled to engage in peace negotiations with that very regime. His wise humanitarian leadership had promised a luminous future for the country; his death was devastating for the prospect of lasting autonomy in Iranian Kurdistan.

Dreaming Kurdistan: The Life and Death of Kurdish Leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou is the book Ghassemlou asked me to write—a journalistic ← xvi | xvii → testimony that has ended by depicting the real events surrounding his murder, reconstructed through political documents and speeches, police reports, taped material, testimonies, letters, and interviews. The current revised and much-expanded edition brings in further evidence that has come to light, together with additional statements and perspectives from those who have known Ghassemlou and witnessed the history through which he moved. These materials, taken together, offer a broadened testimony to the events that formed both the life and death of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. The interviews included in this expanded edition incorporate conversations with more than sixty individuals who played—and continue to play—important roles in Iran and Iraq today.

His own untimely and brutal assassination, of course, was not the theme of the book Ghassemlou had envisioned. But in the retelling, fate was to weave a more intricate web. I had started out intending to bring to life the story of a relatively unknown international leader; instead I found myself investigating and writing his death.

Thirty years have passed since Ghassemlou’s assassination, and the reality of the Kurds has shifted dramatically. Though the Kurds in Iraq have attained an autonomous government and maintain ongoing relations with the Iranian regime, the Kurds in Iran still suffer persecution and discrimination. While several international human-rights organizations persevere in bringing to light the plight of the Iranian Kurds, the international press has focused upon the unfolding developments in Iraqi Kurdistan, and now in Syria. Ghassemlou’s story reminds us that the basic human cause he championed was that of the Kurds of Iran.

Because of their international implications, Iran’s political maneuvering and concerns about its nuclear program occupy center stage today. Yet, hidden in the wings, the day-to-day struggle of the Kurdish nation persists. It is my wish that this book will serve to rekindle the resolute voice of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou—who spoke for millions of Kurdish people in their determination to reclaim their right to freedom and dignity within the Islamic Republic of Iran.

His demise was the price paid by Ghassemlou in his fight for recognition of the identity of the Kurdish people, and for their inherent rights as a nation. Through his life and death, we better understand the volatile politics of this vital region of the Middle East, and the historical currents that have influenced it to this day. ← xvii | xviii →

One thing is very certain: throughout his life, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou never limited himself to being simply an Iranian party chief. He lived as a farsighted leader and, above all, as a Kurd who held a dream for his homeland and an overarching love for his people. In the end, he gave up his life while reaching for that dream. His unwavering spirit and light live on in the hearts and rugged mountains of a nation called Kurdistan.


1. There is no official census on the Kurdish population; Kurds themselves maintain the number around 40 million.

2. Research indicates cultural links dating back to the Medes as well as Zoroastrians. See Maria T. O’Shea, Trapped Between the Map and Reality: Geography and Perceptions of Kurdistan (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 23.

3. Kendal Nezan, “A Brief Survey of the History of the Kurds,” Kurdish Institute of Paris, http://www.institutkurde.org/en/institute/who_are_the_kurds.php (accessed January 18, 2015).

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. See Kurdish History Timeline, http://www.infoplease.com/spot/kurds3.html#7#ixzz3PEFvJvJJ (accessed January 30, 2015).

8. Saladin, Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (“Righteousness of the Faith, Joseph, Son of Job”), 1137–1193, ruling from Damascus as the Muslim sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, has always been regarded in the West as the most famous of Muslim heroes. “Saladin,” Encyclopædia Britannica, updated November 11, 2014; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/518809/Saladin (accessed January 30, 2015).

9. Nezan, “A Brief Survey.”

10. Ibid.

11. Among the Kurds were some who were able to see these developments not merely as threat but as inspiration. “In 1675,” notes Kendal Nezan, “more than a century before the French Revolution, which spreads the idea of the nation and the state-nation in the West, the poet Khani, in his epic in verse ‘Mem-o-Zin,’ calls the Kurds to unite and create their own unified state. [But] he’ll scarcely be listened to by either the aristocracy or the population.” Not until the nineteenth century would any movement toward a unified Kurdistan emerge, when first stirrings would arise in response to Ottoman interference. Even into the twentieth century “Kurdish society approached the First World War divided, decapitated, without a collective plan for its future.” The Anglo-French Sykes-Picot agreement of 1915 foreshadowed the partition of the Kurdish lands that would take place following World War I. Nezan, “A Brief Survey.” ← xviii | xix →

12. Quelle Turquie pour quelle Europe? Dossier published by the Comité international pour la libération des députés Kurdes emprisonnés en Turquie, with the collaboration of the Institut Kurde de Paris and the Fondation France-Libertés (Paris: December 1995).

13. Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt, “A Path to ISIS, Through a Porous Turkish Border,” New York Times, March 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/world/europe/despite-crackdown-path-to-join-isis-often-winds-through-porous-turkish-border.html?_r=. The article goes on to cite Western officials’ perception of “a degree of ambivalence among Turkish officials who do not see the Islamic State as a primary enemy.” U.S. director of national intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr., speaking before Congress, stated bluntly his perception that “the Turks . . . are more concerned with opposing Kurdish autonomy within Syria than in fighting the Islamic State.” Ibid.

14. Population estimates from Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1993/iraqanfal/ANFALINT.htm, and Agence France Press, cited by Institute Kurde de Paris, http://www.institutkurde.org/info/depeches/anfal-un-genocide-de-saddam-hussein-contre-les-kurdes-861.html.

15. See Michael Gunter, “The Kurdish Question in Perspective,” World Affairs, Vol. 166, No. 4, Spring 2004, 202.

16. This development has been noted in news coverage. See Zana Gulmohamad, “Report: Iraqi Kurdistan’s rise on the international scene amid the expansion of the Islamic State,” Your Middle East, November 30, 2014, http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/culture/report-iraqi-kurdistans-rise-on-the-international-scene-amid-the-expansion-of-the-islamic-state_28218 (accessed March 20, 2015). See also Nick Robins-Early, “The Role of the Kurds in the Fight against ISIS,” The World Post (a partnership of Huffington Post and the Berggruen Institute), October 11, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/11/kurds-iraq-syria_n_5960428.html?; Mariam Karouny, “Islamic State under pressure as Kurds seize Syrian town,” Reuters, UK Edition, February 27, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/02/27/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-kurds-idUKKBN0LV1NM20150227; Fazel Hawramy, “Kurdish peshmerga, IS reach stalemate,” Al-Monitor, the Pulse of the Middle East, February 6, 2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/iraq-kurdistan-peshmerga-wait-islamic-state.html#; and Dexter Filkins, “The Fight of Their Lives,” The New Yorker, September 29, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/29/fight-lives (accessed March 20, 2015).

17. “Turkey primed to start offensive against US-backed Kurds in Syria,” The Guardian, December 12, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/12/turkey-primed-to-start-offensive-against-us-backed-kurds-in-syria (accessed December 27, 2018). Reuters news service has carried an ongoing series of dispatches on the emerging situation for the Kurds in Syria; see Ellen Francis, “Let Down by U.S., Syrian Leaders Look to Russia and Assad,” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-kurds/let-down-by-u-s-syrian-kurdish-leaders-look-to-russia-and-assad-idUSKCN1OQ18E?fbclid=IwAR2pcxLYQa1FdoM6JV3ZL3ulYzcwf39Y-ASZE5UZX5roK5gBTjajvA-tA7Y (accessed December 27, 2018).

18. For the most part, the Kurdish regions have abundant water. Only some areas in Iraq and Syria—those that border the desert—lack water, not only for agriculture but even for basic personal needs. The headwaters of massive rivers arise in the mountains of Kurdistan: the ← xix | xx → Aras, whose course of 920 kilometers flows into the Caspian Sea; the Tigris, 1,850 kilometers, which joins the Euphrates, Western Asia’s longest river, with 2,800 kilometers. Additionally, a vast swath of Kurdistan is situated between two extensive lakes: Van and Urmia, with surface areas of 3,765 and 6,000 square kilometers, respectively.

19. Dr. Bernard Kouchner, interview with the author, Paris, 1991.

20. Ayatollah: the highest position in the Shi’ite religious hierarchy. The title, which means “sign of God,” is gained “by general acknowledgment of a mullah’s scholarship and piety rather than by appointment or election.” Robin Wright, In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989).

21. The Islamic Republic of Iran was established by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.

| 1 →


XXII, 540
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XXII, 540 pp., 8 b/w ill., 3 color ill.

Biographical notes

Carol Prunhuber (Author)

Carol Prunhuber holds a degree in literature from UCAB, Caracas, and a doctorate in Ibero-American studies from Université Paris VII. Her publications include Sangre y asfalto: 135 días en las calles de Venezuela (2019); The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd (2009); Femmes: Les Grands Mythes à travers le Monde (1987); and Agua, silencio, memoria y Felisberto Hernández (1986).


Title: Dreaming Kurdistan
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564 pages