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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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2. Rifts and Rivalries


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As the year 1947 dawned, all that was left of the Democratic Republic of Kurdistan was a richly heroic national legacy and a small political force, the PDKI, which Ghassemlou would define in 1988 as “the avant-garde party” of Iranian Kurdistan, its mission “the fulfillment of the national and democratic demands of the Kurdish people.”1

The party born in 1945 would not be the same organization in 1989, when the Iranians would assassinate its secretary-general in Vienna. By then, the PDKI would have lived through the repressions of successive regimes, and crises born out of the ambitions of some of its own members.

In the wake of the collapse of the Kurdistan Republic, the party had gone underground; during this passage, in its shift to the left as a clandestine opposition party, a close alliance with the Communist party Tudeh was forged. After the shock of Qazi Muhammad’s death and the implosion of its experiment in autonomy, the party was in chaos. Its leaders found themselves in prison or in hiding, or abandoned the party or the country and went into exile. Tudeh seized the momentum and recruited both new Kurdish members and more seasoned cadres from the PDKI. As PDKI tentatively reinitiated activity in Kurdistan under Tudeh’s auspices in the early 1950s, the party became, essentially, a de facto chapter of Tudeh.2

By 1959, following a decade of persecution that would...

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