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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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1. Meeting in Vienna


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Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March. . . .

Caesar: The ides of March are come.

Soothsayer: Aye, Caesar, but not gone.

—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Vienna, Thursday, July 13, 1989. The day he was murdered, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou woke up and was in a lively mood. As always, he shaved while listening to the radio. He showered and leisurely dressed himself.

It was summer and Vienna was flooded with light. Ghassemlou was staying with friends, Azad and Charlotte. He walked into the living room, where his friends were already up. He inquired about Abdullah, his assistant, who had been ill the day before with a stomachache and severe intestinal upset. Ghassemlou did not usually adopt a paternalistic attitude toward his assistant, but on that morning, he was worried about his young friend. Perhaps because of the age difference between them, Ghassemlou, then fifty-eight years old, felt a certain affection and tenderness for his thirty-seven-year-old comrade. Their friendship and political activities bonded them. Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar represented the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI)1 in Europe—and Ghassemlou was its secretary-general.

Charlotte had already prepared breakfast by the time the guests got up. The dark-haired, blue-eyed Viennese woman and her husband, Azad, worshiped their soft-mannered and gracious guest, who would appear as often and as suddenly as he would disappear from their lives. One day Ghassemlou would be in Kurdistan,...

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