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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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6. The Three-Month War


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A Kurd will never be the leader of Iran,

but he is the one who dares to fight Khomeini.

—Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

Toward the end of the summer of 1979, the peshmerga controlled Kurdistan. In Tehran, the news reported insurrection in Kurdish areas. The foreign press was forbidden to travel to the region.

Nevertheless, French journalist Marc Kravetz somehow managed to get there. “Because my newspaper was not wealthy, I took a bus that left at night, and since I was sleeping when we passed the control point, they did not realize I was a foreigner. I arrived at Mahabad, which was under the control of the Kurds, and was introduced to Ghassemlou.”1

Kravetz was surprised by the congenial and tranquil atmosphere that reigned in the Kurdish city, so different from the oppressive and fanatical climate in the capital. In contrast to Tehran, in Mahabad he found that men were relaxed; and women were not veiled or covered, and would look at him.2

The French journalist was extremely impressed with Ghassemlou. “Here I found a political leader who spoke like a normal person. He analyzed the situation and, given the forces with which he was confronted, he aimed to achieve some kind of tolerance and a national equilibrium that would permit a strengthening of the Iranian state. Ghassemlou was convinced that autonomy could be negotiated. Autonomy...

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