Letters to the Kurdish Patriots ( I )

A Reflection on the book: “Rahman the Kurd”

Kani Xulam
September 15, 2010

July 13, 1989 will forever be remembered as a day of treachery in the annals of the Kurdish history for as long as there are Kurdish patriots in this world. On that merciless day, in Vienna, Austria, three Kurds were slaughtered as if they were sheep. The small Kurdish community of the Central European city did not know what hit it. When the dust settled and the blood of the Kurds coagulated, Oswald Kessler, the head of State Police, told his boss, Franz Loschnak, the Minister for Interior Affairs, “Three Iranians had assassinated three Kurds.”

He could not have been more succinct.

But the day was memorable for non-Kurds as well. In Paris, France, the French were getting ready for the next day’s festivities that were to honor their bicentennial revolution that supposedly had sanctified “The Rights of Man.” In the Muslim world, where the murderers had come from, with “diplomatic” passports no less, the faithful were celebrating what I grew up knowing as the “Festival of Sacrifice.”

Tragedy is nothing new to the readers of Kurdish chroniclers. What makes these Kurdish losses unbearably poignant, for me at least, is their close association, even if it is a quirk of history, with a milestone in Western civilization and a turning point in Islam. The French Revolution crystallized humanity’s age-old struggle for “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” What the “Festival of Sacrifice” did, for the Muslims that is, was even more profound: God, according to the Quran, even in its moodiest moment, upheld the sanctity of human life.

But the Muslim fanatics of the Islamic Republic of Iran were clueless about their holy book. They probably thought they were doing God’s work in eliminating the Kurds. For in the Quran, God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his piety. The father of Arabs and Jews rolls up his sleeves to do just that. As God’s mercy begins to reassert itself, a ram appears to Abraham to replace his son. That ram and billions like it, including camels, cows and goats, have been sacrificed, in honor of that event, ever since.

In the Middle East, it is officially an “open season” to hunt down the Kurdish patriots. Europe, I thought, was exempt from this unholy practice. It isn’t, apparently, if you are trying to change the status of the Kurds from beasts to humans. Three well-known Kurds were murdered in Austria. All three of their killers were known to the authorities. Two were taken into the custody in the evening of the murder. One was, for a while at least, healed in a hospital. All went home scot-free. Why?

That in a nutshell is the story of the book, The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan. It is a work of love by a Venezuelan writer, Carol Prunhuber. The protagonist and the writer meet at a Kurdish gathering in France. Rahman the Kurd, better known as, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, was then the leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). Carol Prunhuber was a doctorate student at the University of Paris.

In life, we meet all kinds of people in the course of our lives. Not many of us are so lucky to cross paths with the exceptional few that change our lives for the good. That is, it is obvious when you read the book, what happened to Carol Prunhuber when she met Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. A friendship, the stuff of books, took shape at that seemingly inconsequential meeting. It bloomed and blossomed for the next six years. Then a phone call brought it to an abrupt end on July 14, 1989.

When living, Mr. Ghassemlou was smart, sophisticated, charming and charismatic and there are many other superlatives that slide off Carol’s tongue, or show up in the pages of her book, the way water flows in a mighty river. He spoke eight languages and held a PhD, in economics, perhaps the only guerilla leader that ever did so. He fought for what he thought was within the realm of possibility, “Democracy in Iran, Autonomy in Kurdistan.” He believed in himself and in his ability to change things. The problem was he underestimated his adversaries.

His father, who had spent most of his life, as an outlaw, in Iranian Kurdistan, perhaps knew the Persians better than he did. He had warned his son, unfortunately to no avail, “If you see a Persian, kill him, or escape — because if you do not, he will betray and kill you.” But Ghassemlou had come of age abroad — in Europe. He had loved the continent; he had learnt its languages; he had adopted its culture; and he had married its daughter while never forgetting that Kurdistan should also partake in his acquired blessings. Iran, he believed, didn’t need to be, on the account of the Kurds, in a state of constant turmoil. In his vision, the Kurds and the Persians could coexist for the greater happiness of both peoples.

But the Middle East, or Iran if you want to be more specific, remains intolerant of ideas that are outside of its purview. Mohamed Jafari Sahrarudi, the Persian interlocutor of Mr. Ghassemlou, tells the Kurdish leader, in the surviving tapes of their conversation, which were confiscated by the Austrian police, “You must know that in Islam, we do not have autonomy.” He and his bosses in Tehran were strict constructionists and Mr. Ghassemlou couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The Kurdish leader may have made a lot of sense to people like Barack Obama or Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel or David Cameron, but as far as the clerics were concerned he was a heretic. And heretics “must” meet violent ends in the Middle East and now apparently in Europe too.

I knew that I was in for a melancholic moment when I met with The Passion and Death of Rahman the Kurd: Dreaming Kurdistan, the book. What I didn’t expect was that I would find another story within the story, even more telling than that of the Kurdish leader: that of Fadil Rasul, who was also gunned down with Mr. Ghassemlou. If awards were seen fit for tragic figures, he would be my candidate for the gold medal. Kurds should read this book and if they do, Mr. Rasul will keep them company in their thoughts more than Mr. Ghassemlou. He was a Muslim Kurd. He was a friend of Khomeini’s revolution. He was contacted by Tehran to act as an intermediary between the clerics and the Kurdish leader. He became the host of the secret meeting on that fateful day in the Austrian capital.

But perhaps I should digress on the life of this hapless Kurd for a little bit. Cicero must have had his likes in mind when he said: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” The Kurdish history is denied to us in the Middle East and we have become a nation of children in the hands of cruel masters in Tehran, Ankara, Damascus and not too long ago, Baghdad. No one epitomizes this proposition better than Fadil Rasul. Every Kurdish patriot needs to reflect on his sorry lot. It is definitely worth, take my word for it, a university education at Harvard.

He was born in Iraqi Kurdistan at a time of turmoil. Denied a peaceful life, he gravitated from place to place and from cause to cause till he found a refuge in Vienna, Austria. In that country, he learned German and became a professor of political science. At one time, he was an ardent Maoist and visited China the way pious Muslims visit Mecca. Then, he embraced Islam and became a regular in Tehran. In fact, his transformation was so profound that he converted his Austrian wife to the religion of Mohammed. If you like tidbits, as I do, here is another shocker: he kept a mistress, also Christian, and converted her too. The problem was, he could be everything, but a Kurd. For Iranians, he was only that and a recent convert. They used him and killed him and threw him away like a soiled diaper. His wife took his body to Iraqi Kurdistan for burial. If I were her, I would have shipped it to Tehran.

You are, at this time, probably, wondering why weren’t the two Iranians who were taken into custody prosecuted in a court of law. That would have meant you were dealing with a country that respected the rule of law. Austria, apparently, no longer does. To be sure, Iran did rattle its saber and threatened to take Austrian diplomats, stationed in Tehran, “hostage,” if Vienna did not release its “diplomats.” There was also a brisk trade in arms and oil between these two countries. So, Vienna, instead of standing up for justice, sat down to work out its “differences” with Tehran. When a surprised Spanish journalist asked a retired police chief what he thought of the whole thing, the Austrian replied, “The political morality [of our country] has fallen in a shocking way.” He was only stating the obvious. The collaborators of the Nazis were now collaborating with the thugs disguised as clerics. In fact, emboldened with their triumph, the Iranian agents struck again, this time in Berlin, Germany, assassinating Mr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, the successor of Mr. Ghassemlou, only a mere three years later, in 1992.

If you are a Kurd or a friend of the Kurds, do the right thing: order a copy of this book. Acquaint yourself with the challenges facing the Kurds. Help us restore decency, truth, love, and respect to a region of the world suffering from an abundance of ignorance guided by blind passion. Mr. Ghassemlou paid with his life to put the age-old Kurdish Persian relations on the right footing. He erred, for he thought bigotry had no chance in an encounter with his eloquence and reason. Although Europeanized, I wish he had also read his Bible. For the old book notes, “You cannot keep a clay pot next to an iron kettle; the pot will break if it hits the kettle.” In a world of iron kettles, it is criminal to insist on a life of clay pot for the Kurds. Destiny has burdened our generation not only to liberate Kurdistan, but also transform the Middle East for the good. Peace, stability, good-governance and prosperity will only come when we have this fundamental truism right.

PS: If you like this letter or review and live in Washington, DC area, please consider attending Carol Prunhuber’s book reading on September 20, 2010 at Busboys and Poets at 8:30 pm. — if you don’t, but know of people that do, please alert them to the event.

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