Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s widow publishes her memoir
29 May 2011 (Kurdistan Tribune) 22 years have passed since Abdol Rahman Ghassemlou was slaughtered, on 13 July 1989, during secret talks about autonomy for his Kurdish people with Iranian emissaries in Vienna. The murder suspects have still not been brought to justice.
A decade ago the Kurdish leader’s widow, Czech-born Helen Krulich, started to write down her memories of life with Abdol Rahman, their two daughters and the Kurds. It was a life that crossed borders of culture and civilization – between Cold War-Europe and the Middle East and between the religions and ideologies of the second half of the 20th century – and a life shaped by deprivation, persecution and wars, mainly within and between Iran and Iraq.
On 14 May 2011 her book, ‘Une Européenne au pays des Kurdes’ (‘A European Woman in the Land of the Kurds’), was officially presented at the Kurdish Institute in Paris, today her home town*.
On the occasion of a students’ festivity in Prague in autumn 1951 two young people – Abdol Rahman, just under 21, and Helen, not yet 18 – met and almost instantly fell in love. All warnings by Helen’s aunt to the niece, who had become an orphan at the age of six, were in vain. In spring 1952 the couple married at the Iranian embassy in the then Czechoslovak capital. Because he was Muslim and, according to Islam’s dogma Muslims can never change their religion, Helen had to adopt Islam to become his wife.
This was a formality for them both, and the question of religion was the least of their problems in the next three and a half decades. Although coming from totally different cultural backgrounds and regions of the world, they held core attitudes in common.
Young as they were, they had already become atheists and they were keen to make the world a better place. What really counted for them was the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Rahman had been a fighter against the Shah and for the liberation of his brutally suppressed Kurdish people from the age of just 14. The Czech girl took up this cause, made it her own and became a Kurd at heart. In these circumstances the only ideology that seemed to support their demands was communism – they would get painful lessons about this fundamental error only years later.
Apart from a few periods of happiness, painful experiences accompanied Helen even beyond Abdol Rahman’s assassination. In vain she tried to sue the Austrian Republic for consciously and cowardly letting the Iranian murder suspects escape. In the end her claim was rejected as unfounded by the Supreme Court of Austria in 1992. The authorities denied any responsibility.
“The assassination of Abdol Rahman bereft a people as a whole”, declared Helen, today a grey haired, slender lady of 77, in her speech presenting the book. “But they killed the man, not the idea of freedom and not his legacy as a leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan”.
Sissy Danninger is a freelance writer living in Vienna, Austria.
*‘Une Européenne au pays des Kurdes’ (‘A European Woman in the Land of the Kurds’) is published by Éditions Karthala (288 pages, 25 €, ISBN 978-2-8111-0509-9). Currently it is available in French only but preparations are under way for Kurdish, German and English translations.