The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd
By Anahit Khatchikian
On 13 July 1989, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and respected Kurdish intellectual in the West, was assassinated by Iranian agents in Vienna, Austria, while negotiating for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question in Iran.
Nineteen years later, Carol Prunhuber, the Venezuelan journalist and friend of Ghassemlou, published his biography “The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan” in Spanish. Her book is not just a biography; nor is it merely political analysis of the Kurdish question in Iran. Carol Prunhuber’s book is an intelligent example of deep investigative journalism, written with love and empathy, but at the same time conducted with chirurgical precision. Every word, every fact, every testimony and shred of evidence lies in its appropriate place and speaks without its author’s subjective involvement. For this is a very engaging book. You can see an inspired and passionate author amidst its lines – who at the same time remains very objective and impartial in analyzing the dramatic circumstances surrounding Ghassemlou’s untimely death.
Last but not least, it is a book written with a sense of accomplished moral obligation. The author says that Ghassemlou asked her, “When I die, I would like you to write a book, telling the story of my life and the Kurdish cause.” Sadly, at that time Ghassemlou didn’t know that Prunhuber’s book would be signalled by his assassination.
From the very first pages of this volume, the reader is immediately placed in the heart of the narration – it is the day of the assassination and for first time, the writer introduces us to the cultivated leader of the Kurdish Revolutionary movement in Iran, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. He was an intellectual who spoke nine languages, could recite poems in Farsi and translate them instantly in French, loved literature and wine and surprised everyone with his knowledge on Western culture and art.
Ghassemlou was the youngest of seven brothers born in Urmia in Iranian Kurdistan to the family of a rich Kurdish feudal lord and Assyrian mother (the third of his nine wives). He spoke Kurdish at home, studied the Quran and Arabic at school and Assyrian language in the Christian house of worship, where his mother took him to learn religion unbeknownst to his father. Perhaps this rich and unusually mixed environment shaped the sensibility of the cosmopolitan visionary Ghassemlou would become. He was not religious himself, but respected all people from different ethnicities and beliefs.
During his youth, Ghassemlou discovered Marxism. He studied in Paris, lived in communist Prague, taught Economics in the University, married a Czechoslovakian, Helene Krulich, and witnessed the Soviet intervention in Prague in 1968. No matter if he was in his homeland Kurdistan or away in Europe, Ghassemlou continued to ponder and work for the rights of the Kurdish people. Gradually he moved closer to the social-democrat ideas, which also served as the basis of the KDPI ideology. The Kurdish leader believed in a multi-national, multi-religious democratic Iran with autonomy for East Kurdistan.
In 1985 Carol Prunhuber visited Ghassemlou in the daftar, the general headquarters of KDPI established one year earlier along the Iraqi-Iranian border, in a zone controlled by the Kurdish Iraqi guerrillas of Jalal Talabani, who cooperated closely with Ghassemlou. The diary of Prunhuber from that time recounts the difficult journey to the border, the modest room of the Kurdish leader and his friendly attitude to the Peshmergas. The first seed for the book was planted at that time, the Venezuelan journalist recalls.
Later Prunhuber conducted interviews with more than thirty individuals who were related to the life of Ghassemlou. Among these were: The Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, current President of Iraq; Abolhassan Bani Sadr, ex-President of Iran; Ahmed Ben Bella, ex-President of Algeria, Bernard Kouchner, former French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, French journalist Chris Kutschera and many others.
One of the strongest points in Prunhubner’s book is namely this “polyphonic” approach. Many different voices speak about Ghassemlou and the facts are retold from an array of perspectives to give a realistic portrait of the reality in all its complexity. This approach, as well as the use of documents, police reports and taped records gives Prunhuber’s book the necessary objectivity and impartiality and prevents her book from the risk of sounding propagandist.
The writer sympathises with the Kurdish cause, as have many other foreign intellectuals, writers and journalists who support the struggle of this ancient people divided between four states today. But Prunhuber always keeps a high journalistic standard and lets the facts speak alone.
As a faithful biographer, Carol Prunhuber follows the life of Ghassemlou through the years, analyzing his ideological and political evolution. Today, four years its first publication, Carol Prunhuber continues to follow pressing Kurdish issues and hopes that a person with the intellectual capacity of Ghassemlou will soon emerge among the Kurdish leaders.
Carol Prunhuber shared her latest observations on the Kurdish developments: “There is one quality that Ghassemlou had which I think is the most difficult for Kurds to attain – due to the tribal tradition – and that is the capacity to leave aside personal, party/family/tribal connections in order to put the Kurdish cause as the main goal. He was able to set aside his personal interests for the best of the Kurds. Ghassemlou knew that the strength of the Kurds lay in the unity among them. He was always trying to end infighting amongst the Kurds – the Achilles heel of the Kurdish movement throughout its history. Ghassemlou had a tolerance and capacity for dialogue that allowed him to gain respect from all. His stature went beyond his Kurdishness.”
Despite all the evidence of the Iranian regime’s responsibility in the assassination of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, to this day no one has been tried and the killers have never been punished. “The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan” stands as a faithful testimony which conserves the facts that continue to exist – beyond the dictatorship of the autocratic regimes and the hypocrisy of the complicit European Western governments.
The English version of the book has received several awards among them: Silver Medal Winner Foreword Review's 2009 Book of the Year Awards, Biography; Winner 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Biography; Finalist in 2011 International Book Awards, Biography General; Winner 2011 London Book Festival, Biography/Autobiography.