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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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3. The Intermediary


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The Kurds of Vienna did not trust Rasul. They had been avoiding him for a long time—despite every effort the young man made to befriend them.

Rasul’s political history was complex: as a Maoist militant, he had been exiled from Iraq for years in Lebanon. There he worked with the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He finally ended up in Austria, where a large contingent of his numerous family lived. He held Austrian citizenship.

At university he had met Susanne Rockenschaub, who came from an aristocratic family. She was the daughter of a well-known university professor from the Social Democratic Party of Austria. When Rasul met her, she was participating in the Trotskyist movement. They married, but had no children.

Rasul’s influence over her was particularly strong. When he abandoned Marxism and turned toward the Islamic faith, Susanne, who was a medical doctor at the time, followed him in this path. Delicate and cultivated, fluent in several languages, this Viennese woman became a Muslim during their courtship. Following her ideological conversion, she pursued a natural and authentic passion for the Islamic Revolution.

Azad was alarmed to discover this political affinity in 1981, when Rasul and Susanne were his guests in Iranian Kurdistan. To his dismay, he discovered Rasul speaking on the phone from his house with friends in Tehran, Iranian government functionaries.

The topic of discussion between Rasul and...

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