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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. Shah Raft! Shah Raft!


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In the face of the adverse political conditions, in 1978 the heads of the PDKI met in Iraqi Kurdistan to discuss the pros and cons of their return to Iran from exile. The move was dangerous and not advisable. The regime and SAVAK,1 the secret police, were prowling like caged beasts.

Ghassemlou had summoned Sadegh Sharafkandi,2 his PDKI colleague “Dr. Said,” to Paris to study the situation. He thought Iran was entering a revolutionary stage and that all members and leaders of the party should return. Ghassemlou asked Sharafkandi: if he, Ghassemlou, were to return in a clandestine way, would they be able to work together for the party and be effective?

“I was worried about his personal security,” Sharafkandi recalled. “I told him anybody else could return, but he could not.”3

Nevertheless, Ghassemlou told Sharafkandi that if he returned, he would reenter the country under the alias of Jamil Sharifi, and he would inform Sharafkandi if he decided to do so.

The majority of the party’s central committee did not concur with his determination to return. But without letting anyone know, Ghassemlou and other friends did come back.

Ghassemlou left Paris for his homeland on August 31, 1978.4 He first went to Baghdad to resolve political issues.5 There the party’s central committee decided to create a new central committee called Zagros which would have...

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