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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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1. Sons of Simko


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Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was born on December 22, 1930, in the city of Urmia1 in Iranian Kurdistan. This is according to Ghassemlou’s uncle, who insisted his nephew was born during winter. His mother always claimed that he was born in the summertime.

The season may have been questionable, but at least Ghassemlou knew what year he was born. His generation was the first to register even the year of birth. “My father,” he said, “was probably born around 1867 and was approximately sixty-three years old when I was born. He died at the age of eighty-four.2 My father claimed that he was legally married to nine women, but my mother would say there were sixteen.3 If I’m correct, my mother was his third wife. She was Assyrian and converted to Islam.”4

His mother’s name was Naneh.5 She took the name of Fatima when she married and became a Muslim.

“We were seven brothers and I was the youngest,” Ghassemlou recalled. Truly speaking, it was a large family, even by Kurdish standards. Ghassemlou’s colleague Q. M.6 remembered: “I knew his older brother, who was a radiologist; his nieces; and his brother Hassan. I went once or twice to the Ghassemlou Valley.7 It was an immense valley with several springs, and the air was fresh. There were many tobacco and fruit fields. The lands had been divided since the Shah’s time. One part was...

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