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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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2. A Fearless Man


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So much time has passed,

so little remains—don’t slacken now!

—Sufi saying

Tuesday, July 11. Ghassemlou and Abdullah arrived in Vienna on Tuesday; Azad, Fatah, and Mostafa were waiting for them at the airport. These three Kurds were old friends. Fatah was a former peshmerga. He represented the party in Austria. Mostafa was an expert in mineralogy and one of the most educated members of the party. Both had known Azad since they were children. All three were married to Austrian women.

Ghassemlou informed them that he would only stay in Vienna for a few days and that the following Wednesday, July 19, he would be traveling from Paris to the United States.

“We asked him what he was going to do in the United States. He replied that he was going to meet politicians, give interviews to the press, and perhaps meet some people from the government. He was extremely happy about this trip. He was even checking a newspaper in English to see what the weather was like in the United States and grumbling about the heat there—it was almost forty degrees centigrade,” Charlotte recalled.1

Ghassemlou and Abdullah settled into Azad and Charlotte’s apartment. Ghassemlou told his hosts that no one except the closest people should know he was in Vienna. After that, he called Rasul, and they arranged to meet in a...

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