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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. Journey to the Mountains

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JOURNEY TO THE MOUNTAINS

In 1985, it was extremely risky to reach Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in his daftar. Each time someone made the journey, it became more arduous to get there. Nonetheless, the doctors went on with their work. From time to time, a journalist would actually make it to the PDKI general headquarters.

The daftar was situated in a fifteen-kilometer strip of no-man’s-land along the Iraq-Iran border. The territory itself was unforgiving. In the seventies, three hundred families had been living there, in an area under the protection of General Barzani. When the Treaty of Algiers was signed in 1975 between Iran and Iraq, the Iraqi government destroyed all the villages along the border. The Iraqi army burned every dwelling, blocked up the water wells, and forced the people to migrate. To prevent Kurdish resistance from taking hold, the area became a forbidden zone. Whoever was found in this area suffered dire consequences. If the captured person knew how to read and write, he was condemned to death; if he was illiterate, he would be thrown into prison.

It was in this zone that the PDKI settled in 1984. It was now controlled by Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas led by Jalal Talabani; other groups that opposed Iran’s Islamic regime had also settled here.

“All the Iranian leaders of the opposition came to our general headquarters, including Ghassemlou,” remembered Talabani. “We received them in Yakhsamar. The Tudeh,...

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