Dreaming Kurdistan. Life and Death of Kurdish Leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

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.


It was in Paris, in 1983, that I first met Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. We were introduced at the Kurdish Institute, where I was attending an art exhibition with the filmmaker Yilmaz Güney and his wife, Fatosh. I had met Güney at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982. That year he had won the Golden Palm Award, and the publicity that followed brought worldwide attention to the plight of the Kurdish nation.

As a Venezuelan journalist, my limited impression of the Kurds was that they were fierce warriors who lived in unknown and distant mountains somewhere in the Middle East. Yilmaz Güney taught me about the free-spirited Kurdish people, opening my eyes to the oppression they had endured for centuries. Their situation touched me deeply and I began to write articles on the Kurds for Venezuelan newspapers and magazines.

One year later in Paris, I found myself standing face-to-face with this sophisticated, charming, and charismatic Middle Eastern leader of millions of Kurds in Iran. Ghassemlou spoke eight languages with ease. He began reciting Sufi poets like Hafiz and Rumi in Farsi and then seamlessly rendered them in French. I was struck by his knowledge of Western art and culture. To the assembled group, he described his life in the mountains alongside his people. That evening Ghassemlou was the center of attention with his powerful presence, broad smile, and refined sense of humor.

After our meeting in Paris, Ghassemlou invited me to come to Kurdistan. Two years later, I arrived there alongside the French Gamma TV crew to film the Kurdish conflict in Iran. The seed for this book was planted at that time.

Once I saw the Kurdish people up close and the promise that Ghassemlou presented to this war-torn land, the Kurds began to occupy an endearing place in my being. When I showed him a eulogy I had written for Güney after his death, Ghassemlou turned to me and said: “When I die, I would like you to write a book, telling the story of my life and the Kurdish cause.

His own untimely and brutal assassination, of course, was not the theme of the book Ghassemlou had envisioned. But in the retelling, fate was to weave a more intricate web. I had started out intending to bring to life the story of a relatively unknown international leader; instead I found myself investigating and writing his death.

Dreaming Kurdistan: The Life and Death of Kurdish Leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou is a journalistic testimony that depicts the real events surrounding his murder, reconstructed through political documents and speeches, police reports, taped material, testimonies, letters, and interviews. The current revised and much-expanded edition brings in further evidence that has come to light, together with additional statements and perspectives from those who have known Ghassemlou and witnessed the history through which he moved.

These materials, taken together, offer a broadened testimony to the events that formed both the life and death of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. The interviews included in this expanded edition incorporate conversations with more than sixty individuals who played—and continue to play—important roles in Iran and Iraq today.


—from Dreaming Kurdistan: The Life and Death of Kurdish Leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

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Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou


“When I met him, I had translated for him an article I had written about an eulogy for Yilmaz Gunay when he died," Prunhuber says."

Ghassemlou subsequently asked her to write the story of his life and his people when he died - a promise she continues to keep.

Venezuelan author writes in memory of Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou.
“30 years ago, Dr. A.R. Ghassemlou, Abdulla Ghaderi-Azar, PDKI’s representative in Europe and another member of the Kurdish delegation were murdered in Vienna while negotiating a peaceful solution to the Kurdish situation in Iran. This tragedy was a trap meant to silence a charismatic man who had led his people in a long struggle against a terrorist, criminal regime. Ghassemlou had become a respected and valued interlocutor for many Western governments.”

PDKI : Carol Prunhuber: Our demand has never changed. We insist that justice be done.
Read complete note.

“Carol Prunhuber has written a fast-paced, stirring account of Iran’s treacherous assassination, in July 1989, of the charismatic Iranian Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna while he was trying to negotiate peace. Her investigative journalism reveals all we know of this tragic event and is highly recommended reading.”

Michael Gunter, Professor of Political Science, Tennessee Technological University.

“Carol Prunhuber's invaluable firsthand evaluation of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou makes clear why he was the preeminent Kurdish leader of his era. Carol Prunhuber, who knew Ghassemlou in Kurdistan and in Paris, faithfully honored his request that she write his biography, which today illustrates his prescience about the Kurds' fate—and why the ayatollahs assassinated him in 1989.”

Jonathan Randal, former Washington Post correspondent and author of After Such Knowledge. What Forgiveness? My Encounters with Kurdistan.

“Carol Prunhuber, with links to the Kurdish world since the early 1980s, knew Dr. Ghassemlou and spent time in the mountains with his guerrillas. Her biography is an impassioned, meticulously documented investigation that vividly evokes the enthralling life and final days of this incomparable Kurdish leader. This book, which reads like a novel, is indispensable for all those who are concerned about Iran or intrigued by the Kurds.”

Kendal Nezan, President, Kurdish Institute of Paris.

“Prunhuber’s biography of the Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou . . . gives justice to the personality and actions of one of the most remarkable and democratic leaders of a national movement of the past century.”

Gérard Chaliand, former director of the European Centre for the Study of Conflicts, author of People without a Country: Kurds and Kurdistan.

“Is more than a biography; it offers a deep insight into a nation and an ethnic group’s history. Poignant and intelligent, this engaging book focuses on the inspiring life of one of the most influential Kurdish political leaders, Dr. Abdurahman Ghassemlou. A great read from this excellent writer. Strongly Recommended.”
Ava Homa, Kurdistan Tribune, September 14, 2011.
“Against the backdrop of the revolution that overthrew the Shah and through the shadowy back streets of the Cold War, Carol Prunhuber’s Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd resurrects the doomed trajectory of assassinated Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. Prunhuber guides us, through an opaque world of ambiguous friendships, uncertain complicities, treachery, and open threats, from Tehran to Prague, from Paris to Vienna. This portrait is a political whodunit, a truer-than-life reenactment of a destiny, and a journey into a trap—a trap implacably closing, until his execution in an anonymous apartment in Vienna in 1989. A page of history, too: abundant notes allow the reader to navigate with ease through the subtle maze of reheated hatreds and deceitful alliances that give the account all its authenticity.”
Jean-Marc Illouz, former senior foreign correspondent, France2 TV News, Paris.