The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan

This bold journalistic testimony reads like a novel as it spins the story of the brutal assassination of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the Iranian Kurdish leader killed in 1989 while negotiating a supposed peace accord for his people at the behest of Iranian government emissaries in Vienna.

Ghassemlou was a visionary and cultivated leader of the Iranian Kurdish revolutionary movement and a respected interlocutor for the West. He brought the concepts of democracy to his country.  Educated in Paris and Prague with a PhD in Economy, he spoke eight languages. Beloved by his people, Ghassemlou was ahead of his time, leading a movement to oppose the theocratic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini for ten years. Soon after his untimely murder, responsibility was directed towards Iran; yet no one was ever tried or punished for the crime. To this day, many unanswered questions remain. 

This story depicts the real events reconstructed through copious research and interviews taken with fifty individuals who played —and continue to play— important roles in Iran and Iraq.  Among them: Jalal Talabani, current President of Iraq; Abolhassan Bani Sadr, ex-President of Iran; and Ahmed Ben Bella, ex-President of Algeria. Above all, the author’s first-hand knowledge of Ghassemlou gives this story an authenticity and gripping reality.  

Ghassemlou’s light and unfulfilled desire for Iranian Kurdish autonomy still permeates the volatile politics of this remote Middle East region that waits with dignity to play its role upon the world’s political stage. 

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.”

—from The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd



“Carol Prunhuber has produced a painstaking and impressive biography of the Kurds’ most worldly and best-educated leader. Ghassemlou’s life was the stuff of fiction, and his biographer has supplied details to inspire a novelist—presented in dozens of interviews with those who knew him best.”
Jonathan Randal, former Washington Post correspondent and author of After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? My Encounters with Kurdistan.
“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.