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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. Ben Bella Accuses


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The day after the murder, Susanne was interrogated by the police. The police chief, Oswald Kessler, treated her with great consideration, for she was the daughter of a well-known member of the Socialist Party. He informed her that it had not been the Iraqis, but the Iranians, who were the perpetrators of the crime.

She knew that the Iranians had not wanted either Talabani or Ben Bella to participate in the negotiation. But no one, apparently, had informed Ben Bella of this. Susanne communicated this to him, and the old Algerian fox, seasoned from so many battles, concluded that if he had been informed beforehand, he would have known that what was being prepared was an assassination.

“The police saw me at Susanne’s house,” Ben Bella said later,1 “and I told them what I knew. They said they wanted to see me again at their office. I know the police very well. Susanne naïvely thought that they were good guys. But I felt something was going on. The head of the police is an asp, a snake. He was trying to trick her.”

Interrogating Ben Bella, the police tried a deception: according to a recording they had, they told him, Ghassemlou had asked that he, Ben Bella, be present for the negotiations and the Iranians had refused. The police asked Ben Bella if he had been at the scene of the...

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