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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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5. Winter in Vienna


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The figure of a dictator contributes to the establishment of a regime. When that dictator dies the establishment begins to wobble, and falls.

—Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s murder was the culmination of a long hunt for the Kurdish leader by the Islamic Republic. Evidence suggests that the regime was stalking him for years, certainly watching him from very close range, and likely looking for the right opportunity to eliminate him. According to Khanbaba Tehrani, former Tudeh member and leader of the National Democratic Front, Rafsanjani’s and Khomeini’s big concern was how to overcome the opposition groups—meaning the political parties—in Iran. They knew that they would be forced to agree with a diplomatic solution. “That’s why they formed a group,” Tehrani said in a 2013 interview, “‘The Room of Thoughts,’ where they made a list of opposition leaders, and at the top of the list were Dr. Ghassemlou and Massoud Rajavi.” Sahrarudi was chosen to perpetrate Ghassemlou’s murder.1

During the three years leading up to Ghassemlou’s death, from October 1986 to July 1989—right up to the very month of the assassination—Sahrarudi himself was reported to be living in a remote mountain village only a few kilometers from the PDKI daftar.2

After years of outright warfare had failed to eliminate Ghassemlou in the mountains, it took some time for the Iranians to prepare another trap. This...

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