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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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3. A Revolutionary Vision


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For Ghassemlou, the PDKI was a party he believed could shape a viable future, a party whose mission was to fulfill “the national and democratic demands of the Kurdish people.”1 The vision he developed for it was both transformative and, he insisted, achievable, even in the face of a formidably reactionary regime. In speaking of the party’s forward-looking stance, Ghassemlou would write: “Imam Khomeini is a live portrayal of religion fallen into the hands of the enemies of the people and transformed into a terrible weapon to divide the people using the concept of ‘divide and reign.’ In this case, religion becomes a factor of regression and an obstacle to progress.” Ironically, he would note, “It is this same religion which in the hands of the forces of progress caused the historical leap forward that led to the fall of the Shah. In the latter case, it was an example of progress.”2

It was not the forces of progress that were operative now. “The arrival of Khomeini to power produced the union of state and religion,” Ghassemlou wrote. “If we analyze the reactionary and bloody practices of the regime in the name of Islam, we tend to think that it was because of religion that this tyrannical government stayed in power. Khomeini played with this phenomenon, trying to convince the population that the attacks against his regime were a direct attack against Islam. With this...

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