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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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5. Peasants and Aghas


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If we behave like our adversaries,

we are not worth more than they are

and our discourse would lose all credibility.

—Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

While intrigue consumed the politicians’ energy in Tehran and the large cities, violence raged on unabated in Kurdistan. Since autonomy—and, by extension, economic justice—was at the heart of the Kurdish political demand, further conflict had taken birth in defense of land being wrested from the landowners by the peasants.

In the turmoil at the outset of the Iranian revolution, many small farmers seized the opportunity to take control of lands held by the landlords. For the Kurds, and especially for the smallholders and rural workers, regional and cultural autonomy were closely tied to a radical land reform. The question of land reform, which had been featured as a prominent component of the Shah’s so-called “White Revolution,” had been left unresolved, and now erupted once again.

The Shah’s White Revolution, initiated in 1962–1963, was driven by both broad reform goals and strategic political considerations. Its six-point program of modernization and secularization included land reform, women’s suffrage and emancipation, universal access to literacy and a modern education, and broadening participation in the judiciary to include non-Muslims.1 The popular appeal and success of the initiative hinged on the linchpin of land reform. Land redistribution was calculated to win over the peasantry and lower...

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