As a Venezuelan journalist, my limited impression of the Kurds was that they were fierce warriors who lived amongst 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.
-from THE PASSION AND DEATH OF RAHMAN THE KURD
Ghassemlou's lifelong wish was that of lasting peace for his people. He was the visionary and cultivated leader of the Iranian Kurdish revolutionary movement, brutally assassinated in 1989 while negotiating a peace accord for his people with Iran's government emissaries in Vienna. His light still shines upon the volatile politics of this remote Middle East region that continues to play prominently upon the world's political stage.
"Carol Prunhuber, writer and journalist, with links to the Kurdish world since the early 1980s, knew Dr. Ghassemlou and spent time in the Kurdish mountains with his guerrillas. The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd is an impassioned and meticulously documented investigation that vividly evokes the enthralling life and final days of this incomparable Kurdish leader."
-Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris
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About the Author
In 1985, she traveled to Kurdistan with a French TV crew to film the Kurdish conflict in Iran, where she became immersed in the plight of the Kurdish people. Th is book, twenty years in the making, is a distillation of her passionate concern.
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The Passion and Death of Rahman the KurdDreaming Kurdistan
By Carol Prunhuber
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Carol Prunhuber
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMeeting in Vienna
* * *
If a man was a revolutionary in his life, his death will be a revolutionary act. -Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou
Vienna, Thursday, July 13, 1989. The day he was murdered, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou woke up and was in a lively mood. As always, he shaved while listening to the radio. He showered and leisurely dressed himself.
It was summer and Vienna was flooded with light. He walked into the living room of his friends-Azad and Charlotte-who were already up. He inquired about Abdullah, who had been ill the day before with a stomachache and severe diarrhea.
Ghassemlou did not usually adopt a paternalistic attitude toward his assistant, but on that morning, he was worried about his young friend. Perhaps because of the age difference between them, Ghassemlou, then fifty-eight years old, felt a certain affection and tenderness for his thirty-seven-year-old friend. They were united by their friendship and political activities. Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar represented the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) in Europe-and Ghassemlou was its secretary general.
Charlotte had already prepared breakfast by the time the guests got up. The dark-haired, blue-eyed Viennese woman and her husband, Azad, worshiped their soft-mannered and gracious guest who appeared as often and as suddenly as he would disappear from their lives.
One day Ghassemlou would be in Kurdistan and three days later he might call from Paris or Stockholm. When he was in Vienna, they never knew what political operation he was carrying out.
He had spent several weeks with them in December and January. But neither Charlotte nor any of the other members of the small Kurdish community there knew that he was in the midst of secret negotiations with envoys of the Islamic Republic regime.
Only three members of the Iranian Kurdish party had been informed about these negotiations.
Azad and Charlotte shared their house with Ghassemlou during those frigid winter weeks but his presence was never a burden. Apart from the devotion they felt for him, Ghassemlou was fun and a great talker-and women used to perceive him as a charmeur. On the other hand, within the party and while leading a war he could be authoritarian.
Later Azad and his wife said he would retire to his room at midnight, reading and listening to the radio before going to sleep. Every morning, he woke up at eight AM sharp.
In short, Ghassemlou was a tremendously vigorous and agile man. He was a tireless walker-not unusual for a guerrilla leader who had spent a good part of his life amid the precipitous mountains of Kurdistan.
Life there was not easy. The Kurds lived in tents and when the cold weather came and the snow fell, neither the waterproof tents nor the rugs that covered the floor prevented the damp from leaking through. Ghassemlou would spend hours sitting on the floor in the Kurdish way and because of this, he had developed a pain in his knees and sciatica that sometimes paralyzed him. He was a healthy man, as his recent medical exams in Paris had shown. His wife Hélène remembers that a doctor had told him once that his robust health was that of a man from the mountains.
* * *
That July morning they ate breakfast together. As always Ghassemlou drank tea and then a cup of coffee. He spoke with his friends and sat down to read an array of international newspapers.
Charlotte was cleaning the kitchen when Ghassemlou got up to show her an article in the International Herald Tribune. It analyzed the situation in Iran after Khomeini's death and stated clearly that the man who was taking over was the hoyatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Charlotte later recalled, "The article said that Rafsanjani was going to open up to Europe and the Western countries and that Iran's government would be more stable and less fundamentalist. This piece confirmed Dr. Ghassemlou's private theory about the future direction of Iran."
He was happy and proposed they go out and have a special lunch. As Charlotte was on vacation and Azad available for whatever Ghassemlou wanted, they accepted. But Abdullah was still feeling indisposed and ominous feelings of dread were disturbing him. He agreed to come along, but he only wanted yoghurt.
They all got in the couple's car, a blue Renault 12, and drove toward the hills of Wienerland, an area of forests and vineyards. Half an hour later, they arrived at a restaurant from which you could see the entire city of Vienna. It was noon-a bit early if you consider that Viennese usually have lunch at 12:30.
Ghassemlou ordered aperitifs for everyone, but Charlotte did not want one. "Impossible!" he said. "Today you must drink with us."
They had some Camparis and ordered lunch. Ghassemlou ordered Tafelsplitz, a typical Viennese dish with stewed veal, sausages, potatoes, and salad.
"Since we are eating meat, we will have red wine," he said, asking Charlotte to choose. They bought a bottle of Straigel. "The wine is good. You have chosen well," he said.
Ghassemlou was animated. Everything seemed splendid, especially the majestic view of Vienna. Then he confided that on Wednesday, the day before, he had met with an old friend-the former president of Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella-and he was pleased about their meeting.
During coffee, Azad mentioned the subject of the negotiations for the first time. Azad was not against them, but he was not optimistic that they would succeed. He was convinced that the Iranians would never accept an autonomous Kurdistan. If the most conservative sector of the Shiite clerics had not tolerated Ayatollah Montazeri, who had been Khomeini's designated successor, how would they possibly accept Ghassemlou?
As Azad spoke, Ghassemlou sat pensively, smoking a cigarette.
"We have to take precautions. Perhaps they have plans," Ghassemlou answered gravely.
* * *
They left the restaurant at 1:30 PM. Ghassemlou was in excellent spirits and on the way back, he stopped at a nearby shop. Every time he traveled, he would return laden with gifts. That day he purchased a scarf. Was it for the wife of Ted Kennedy or Senator Pell's wife-both of whom he was scheduled to meet the following week in Washington? Or was it for Hélène, his former wife, whom he had divorced some years earlier? Prior to his Vienna trip, he had invited Hélène to accompany him to the United States.
Ghassemlou was extremely enthusiastic about his trip to the United States. Throughout his life, he had been denied entry to America. The State Department had put him on a blacklist that included Communists and Third World revolutionaries. It was ironic that he was still on that list because for a long time, Ghassemlou was one of the few men who represented moderation in an explosive Middle East zone.
The truth was that politically, he was closer to the Social Democrats than the Communists. The American authorities had created many obstacles to his making this trip. Finally a group of Democrats from the Senate had been able to get him a visa.
This upcoming American trip contributed to his present high spirits. Even though Kurdistan was in a delicate situation due to the ceasefire between Iraq and Iran that summer, Ghassemlou continued envisioning new possibilities for his country.
America was opening its doors to Ghassemlou for the first time. The hoyatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, at the cusp of his political power in Iran, had also invited him to negotiate the autonomy of Kurdistan and the legalization of his party. This was the reason he had secretly come to Vienna.
Ghassemlou's ex-wife was tall and thin, black-haired and blue-eyed. Hélène Krülich did not agree with him about the upcoming trip to Vienna. Born in Czechoslovakia, she had shared her life with Ghassemlou until he left for the mountains to head his small army. The evening before he left on his trip to Vienna, they had argued in her small Parisian apartment. She did not believe in the good intentions of the Iranians-nor that the clerics were interested in a Kurdish autonomy.
He was convinced that the death of Khomeini had weakened the regime. This was the theory he found in an article that he had showed Charlotte two days earlier. Ghassemlou believed this was the moment to sit down and negotiate with the Iranians. In the heat of their discussion he told Hélène, "Khomeini has died! Rafsanjani needs me!"
"The only thing Rafsanjani needs is your head!" she retorted.
* * *
It was not the first time they had argued like this. He was the politician and leader. She listened, responded in the moment, and later pestered him like the nagging voice of his conscience.
Their relationship had been this way for more than thirty years. They had shared an eventful life, marked by Ghassemlou's long separations in Tehran, Kurdistan, Iraq, Prague, and Paris.
That Monday evening, as they had done many times before, Rahman and Hélène did not see eye-to-eye. Over the years Ghassemlou listened less and less to what she had to say. Increasingly he took action without considering the input of those around him, trusting more in his own intuition and experience.
* * *
On the following day, he left for Vienna. When he said good-bye to Hélène, neither of them imagined that this would be their final goodbye.
Thursday afternoon, while negotiating with the Iranian envoys, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was shot with three bullets and killed in a tranquil Viennese apartment.
Also murdered was Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar, whose gut feelings had warned him of the danger the day before. There was also a third man, Fadil Rasul, an exiled Kurd from Iraq. Young and naïve, Rasul had been the intermediary between the Kurds and the Iranians.
Unknowingly, Rasul led Ghassemlou to his death-the most important Kurdish leader and primary political head of the Iranian opposition at that time. According to one of his brothers, Rasul had received a personal letter from Rafsanjani encouraging him to contact Ghassemlou and invite him to begin negotiations with the Iranian regime.
The murder took place in the vacant apartment of Renata Faistauer at 5 Linkebahngasse. The apartment was unoccupied; Renata spent the better part of her year in Cairo. And Renata, as everyone knew in the Kurdish community, was Rasul's lover.
Chapter TwoA Tired Man
* * *
Tuesday, July 11. Ghassemlou and Abdullah arrived in Vienna on Tuesday, July 11. Azad, Fatah, and Mustapha were waiting for them at the airport. These three Kurds were old friends. Fatah was a former peshmerga. He represented the party in Austria. Mustapha was an expert in mineralogy and one of the most educated members of the party. Both of them had known Azad since they were children. All three were married to Austrian women.
Ghassemlou informed them that he would only stay in Vienna for a few days, and that the following Tuesday, he would be traveling from Paris to the United States.
"We asked him what he was going to do in the United States. He replied that he was going to meet politicians, give interviews to the press, and perhaps meet some people from the government. He was very happy about this trip. He was even checking a newspaper in English to see what the weather was like in the United States and complaining of the heat there-it was almost forty degrees centigrade," Charlotte recalls.
They settled into Azad and Charlotte's apartment. Ghassemlou told them that no one except the closest people should know he was in Vienna. After that, he called Rasul and they arranged to meet in a café the following morning.
Wednesday, July 12. Azad parked his car and went into the café, where he found Ghassemlou, Abdullah, and Rasul. They seemed to be chatting about banal things. Rasul soon bid them farewell and left.
They had an uneventful lunch. Back at Azad's, Ghassemlou took a nap and at three in the afternoon, Azad took them to Rasul's apartment on Wasagasse. Rasul was waiting for them, as well as a special guest, Ahmed Ben Bella.
What followed was a cordial meeting between two important politicians-Ahmed Ben Bella, the historical leader of the Algerian revolution against the French, and Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a veteran commander of the Kurdish resistance against Iranian centralism.
These two men shared revolutionary stances. But while the Kurdish leader was a democrat and was fighting against the Islamic regime, Ben Bella had been in exile for several years and maintained relations with Tehran, as did Rasul.
Both were currently in the Austrian capital; each had a different agenda. Ben Bella had come to participate in a meeting with the editorial board of a global Islamic intellectual magazine. Ghassemlou was there to negotiate with the Iranians.
Wednesday afternoon. The venue for these new negotiations was the apartment at 5 Linkebahngasse made available by Fadil Rasul. Before the negotiation sessions began, presumably neither of the parties knew of the location, nor the layout of the building.
That afternoon, Rasul separately picked up and delivered both Dr. Ghassemlou and the Iranian delegation to this venue. The first day of negotiations made no substantial headway, and the parties agreed to meet again the next day.
That Wednesday, for Ghassemlou, the first set of conversations appeared to have gone well. These negotiations were something Ghassemlou sought both emotionally and politically because he was having internal problems within his party. One sector had been questioning him and, at the same time, he was feeling the burden of his age.
"Age comes upon me and I feel more vulnerable," he wrote.
From his letter, you could sense that he was feeling more and more lonely in the mountains-as well as feeling keenly the passage of time. He was aware that he had a limited time to complete his life's project. His words also reflected a certain sorrow brought on by the transient nature of time. Somehow he knew he would not see his dream fulfilled, and perhaps because of this, he felt an urgency to sit down and negotiate with the Iranian government. He badly needed a triumph after so many years of fighting and adversity.
Ghassemlou's collaborator in the party, Abdullah Hassan Zadeh, said Ghassemlou had two goals: to be the hero of peace, and to do the best for all the Kurdish people. Iraq had become a haven for the Kurdish resistance in Iran, Turkey, and Syria, since Saddam Hussein's government had problems with all three.
"A year before he was murdered, in 1988, when the war between Iran and Iraq ended, there had been an agreement between the Iraqi and Iranian government to crush the Kurdish rebellion in both countries," he explained.
"Dr. Ghassemlou was aware of this and he wanted to reach a minimal agreement so the Iranian as well as the Iraqi Kurds could have security, and so that all the Kurdish resistance could find refuge in Iranian Kurdistan. He was concerned that the same scenario as in 1975 would be repeated."
According to Ghassemlou's long-time friend, Iraqi Kurdish intellectual and academic Izzadin Mustafa Rasul, "He was also tired and fed up with his relations with the Iraqi government."
Bernard Kouchner, a personal friend and the French secretary of state for humanitarian action, had been with Ghassemlou and Abdullah the previous Sunday in Paris. Kouchner had invited them for dinner at his house, where they had met K., a member of the DGSE, the French intelligence service that specialized in the Palestinian situation, and some journalists.
Kouchner said that Ghassemlou looked worn out. "There was a genuine fatigue in his bearing; or perhaps he was just getting old." They spoke about the duplicity of the Iranians and how difficult it was to trust them. But Ghassemlou refused to change his mind.
"We spoke at length with Rahman before dinner," Kouchner recalled. "He told me he was going to Vienna and even mentioned it a second time later in the evening. I said: 'Why are you going? Don't go. Don't trust them. What are you expecting from them?'
"Rahman took it all with humor. He was excited and joking. 'Stay with us,' I said. But he wanted to go to Vienna, no matter what, against all advice. He wanted to get his people out of the mountains. He sensed that he was losing time and because his party was divided, he could stay in Kurdistan for years."
Excerpted from The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd by Carol Prunhuber Copyright © 2009 by Carol Prunhuber. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Photos will be found between pages....................190-201 Part One: The Crime....................1
I. Meeting in Vienna....................3
II. A Tired Man....................9
III. The Intermediary....................15
IV. The Murderers....................17
Part Two: God's Revolution....................31
I. Mofsed F'il-Arz....................33
II. Shah Raft! Shah Raft!....................39
III. Kurdistan or Kabrestan!....................49
IV. Mahabad, Nationalist City....................57
V. Peasants and Aghas....................67
VI. The Three-Month War....................75
Part Three: Orphans of the Universe....................87
I. Kurdistan at War....................89
II. The French Connection....................99
III. Iranian Offensive....................103
IV. Journey to the Mountains....................109
V. Politics and Religion....................129
Part Four: Rahman the Kurd....................139
I. Sons of Simko....................141
II. The Forging of a Leader....................163
Part Five: The Investigation....................199
I. After the Crime....................201
III. Ben Bella Accuses....................209
IV. Two Police Reports....................213
V. Winter in Vienna....................217
VI. The Assassins....................231
VII. The Conversation....................237
VIII. Creaking on the Floor....................251
IX. Cobra II....................259
X. An Unfinished Story....................271
Appendix 1: Testimony from Abolhassan Bani Sadr....................285
Appendix 2: Chronology of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou....................288
Appendix 3: Historical Events....................295
Appendix 4: Dramatis Personae....................303
Glossary: Abbreviations and Foreign Words....................311
Sources and Bibliography....................351
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan is the compelling account of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a great man whose lifelong wish was that of lasting peace for the Kurdish people, but who was unfortunately brutally murdered by emissaries of the Iranian government. This is a very well written, superb and moving story of an exceptional man who dedicated his life to lead the Kurdish people in their quest for autonomy from those countries which oppress them. The story is grand in its scope and detail, and the author's friendship with Ghassemlou makes the book even more credible and fascinating. Carol Prunhuber is a gifted writer and a great story teller, making one want to read this book from cover to cover without wanting to stop. As soon as I opened this book I was immediately hooked, making it the best story that I've read in a long time.