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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. Kurdistan or Ghabrestan!


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The Kurds have always been key players in the mosaic population of Iran. Throughout the modern era, any weakening of the central power has always encouraged independent movements. Dominated by the Persians, the country could not be governed without agreement by the Azeris, who comprised nearly one third of the population and who played significant roles in the national economy, military, and administration. Kurdistan itself was home to a significant Azeri population.1 Any rebellion by Azerbaijan against the central power would critically wound Iran.2

The Azeri middle and lower-middle classes had allied themselves with the Shah. Historically, their relationship with the Kurds in some respects had come to assume the appearance of a zero-sum game. They would not fuel the surge of a serious nationalist movement. The challenge to the central power arose from other minorities: Kurds, Arabs of Khuzestan, Turkmen, and Baluchistanis—and especially the Kurds.

On the eve of the revolution, the Kurds constituted an estimated 17 percent of Iran’s population and occupied 7 percent of the country’s territory. Their resistance to the old regime had been long and turbulent; protests and demonstrations had flared again and again across Kurdistan during the autumn of 1978, fanned by every new wave of rumored unrest in the capital and in cities across Iran.3 Now, about the time that Khomeini reinstalled himself in Qom and while the beleaguered Bazargan was struggling to restore order in the...

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