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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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4. Mahabad, Nationalist City


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The situation was different in Mahabad. This was a liberated city in which a newfound freedom prevailed. There were no patrols in the streets, nor surveillance at the entrances or exits to the city. Peshmerga maintained order under the PDKI’s direction.

Excitement ran high in the bazaars and markets. There, even alcoholic beverages, forbidden in all of Iran by the central government, were sold. The Kurds living in the mountains did not come to the bazaar for consumer goods, but were attracted by the flourishing commerce in weapons, overpriced though they were.

In Mahabad, the party had installed a government that managed the city’s affairs. Since it was a secular party, its leaders insisted on separating religion from the state. The city atmosphere was calm and friendly. During Foruhar’s stay in the city, Ghassemlou and Foruhar saw each other daily, and the two men had meals with Sheikh Ezzedin Hossein. Foreign journalists arrived every day, and many were surprised to see alcoholic beverages being consumed so openly.

Following its peaceful takeover by Ghassemlou’s people, the military garrison was now under the nominal command of a Kurdish chief officer, Parwiz Razmipush, designated by Tehran. But he never came to Mahabad to exercise his duty. In reality, the garrison was controlled by a dozen armed peshmerga under the orders of Hassan Shiwasali, military head of the PDKI.1

Mahabad flourished as a nationalistic city...

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