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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. Mofsed-e-filarz


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One thousand friends are not enough;

one enemy is too much.

—Kurdish proverb

It was ten years before, on the evening of August 18, 1979, that Khomeini had condemned Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou to death. Six months had passed since the victory over the old regime, and power was in the hands of the elderly cleric with almost no opposition. But in the northwestern cities and rural areas of Kurdistan, blood was flowing without mercy. The Ayatollah’s revolutionary fury was engulfing the Kurds.

That August evening in 1979, Ghassemlou was waiting in a friend’s house in Mahabad1 for his party’s decision about whether or not he should attend the sessions of the Constitutional Council of Experts,2 also known as the Assembly of Experts for the Constitution, in Tehran. He had been elected a member of the council just a few days earlier by a substantial popular vote.

Not only had he obtained a clear majority of the vote, but he was also one of the only two secularists elected to that body, created to draft the constitution for the new Islamic Republic. And in contrast even with his fellow secularist, Ghassemlou was the only elected representative who did not want an Islamic republic. Clerics and other religious fundamentalists occupied the majority of the seats. And while Ghassemlou was poring through the pages of the Qur’an searching for a scriptural explanation to...

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