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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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When someone writes my biography,

he must say that I was born when Simko was murdered.

—Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

That clear afternoon in the month of June, Simko was accompanied by ten armed men as he approached the city of Oshnavieh, where emissaries of Reza Shah waited to negotiate with him. Over and over again, he would remember the old Kurdish saying: “The only Persian you can trust is a dead Persian.”

The sun was falling over the stones along the narrow and dusty path in the mountains on which the riders passed. The horses, nervous, pricked their ears and stretched their necks, measuring each step.

Suddenly, Simko’s black stallion stumbled and some stones loosened and tumbled downhill. They disturbed the silence of the men, the concert of insects, and the echo of the horse’s hooves. Simko tightened the reins, sharpened his ear, and listened to the stones as they tumbled into the river. The rider at the front of the column turned to his chief and Simko gave him the hint of a smile.

Simko was of medium height and rather thin. The virile moustache of the Kurds that he wore hid perfect teeth and a shy smile. But in the set of his mouth you could read, once more, the old refrain that his father used to repeat every time he told the feats of the Shikak tribe to which he belonged.

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