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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. Stunned


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The news of the murder stunned people around the world. Fatosh Güney, widow of the Kurdish film director Yilmaz Güney and personal friend of Ghassemlou, found out the next morning, July 14. That day was a national French holiday. France was celebrating the bicentenary of the Revolution and its proclamation of human rights.

“I was invited to the Élysée Palace and the parade,” she recalled.1 “Kendal Nezan called and informed me. I did not attend any of the events that day. I did not want to believe it. I could hear people singing and dancing in the streets and I would keep seeing his body filled with bullets. That was a terrible day.”

Q. M. heard the news early in the morning while listening to Radio Israel. Dr. Bernard Kouchner found out through French radio and television. Jonathan Randal heard the news through London’s BBC. And from the offices of the Spanish newspaper El Pais, the journalist Rafael Fraguas confirmed the news to me.

Ben Bella recalled, “That night, we had gone to a concert with my wife and children. It was held in an old palace. We returned at about one in the morning. Susanne called my wife and told her that Anwar [Fadil Rasul] had died. We immediately went to see her. She needed to be with someone. We knew that Anwar had been going to see the Kurds and...

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