Dr. A. R. Ghassemlou, one of the prominent leaders of the Kurdish nation, was assassinated by Iranian diplomats during peace talks in Vienna on July 13, 1989. The Iranian diplomats-cum-terrorists were arrested shortly after the murder. Instead of investigating the murders and putting the assassins on trial, Austrian authorities sent them back to Tehran.
Dr. Ghassemlou was in Austria to negotiate with Iranian representatives on Kurdish rights and self-government for Iranian Kurdistan. The negotiations were launched at the initiative of the Iranian government.
Dr. Ghassemlou, a resolute advocate of the rights of his people and a determined leader who did not rule out guerrilla warfare, was a man of peace and gave it a chance whenever possible. He went to the negotiating table in good faith. “We wage war,” he used to say repeatedly, “in pursuit of negotiations [with the Iranian government].”
However, by assassinating Dr. Ghassemlou, the Iranian regime lived up to the entrenched view among the Kurdish nation that it is not trustworthy, and that assassination is part and parcel of its political mindset and practice.
Tomorrow marks the 26th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Ghassemlou. Tomorrow is also the day when world powers and Iran are expected to reach an agreement on the Islamic Republic’s suspect nuclear program.
Not only is the issue of human rights excluded in the negotiations, but there is no mention of the assassination of Dr. Ghassemlou in international media in spite of daily and wide coverage of the talks.
While world powers ignore human rights violations in Iran, which have increased markedly since “moderate” Hassan Rouhani assumed the presidency in 2013, and international media have failed to mention the assassination of Dr. Ghassemlou, the Kurdish people and their friends will commemorate the anniversary of his death.
When July 13 approaches, the Iranian regime increases its military and paramilitary presence all over Kurdistan to prevent the Kurdish people from commemorating the anniversary of the assassination of their leader.
From 2005 until 2009, following the election of a new PDKI leadership in 2004, strikes were organized all over Kurdistan on July 13. However, the Islamic regime used various coercive and violent means to compel bazaars and shops in the Kurdish cities not to engage in strikes.
PDKI has called on the Kurdish people to express their resistance to the Islamic regime and commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of their leader by either staying at home on July 13 or dress in Kurdish clothes when spending time outdoor. PDKI has also called on the Kurdish people to turn off lights in their homes for a few minutes in the evening on July 13.
Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was born on 22 December 1930 in the Ghassemlou valley near the Kurdish city of Ûrmiyeh. He went to primary school in Ûrmiyeh. Later, he continued his studies in Tehran.
Ghassemlou’s involvement in politics started early in life. He was, at the age of 15, one of the founders of Democratic Youth Union of Iranian Kurdistan. Due to the Iranian government’s oppression of the Kurdish people, his political activities mostly took a clandestine form.
Ghassemlou attended university in Paris, and later in Prague. In Prague, he meets Helen (Nasrin) Krulich, whom he later married. They had two daughters together, Mina (1953) and Hiwa (1955).
He earned a Ph.D. Degree in Economics and was an Associate Professor in both Paris and Prague. He taught International Economics at the Vysoká s´kola ekonomická (“Prague School of Economics”) and, later, Kurdish studies at Sorbonne University in Paris.
Dr. Ghassemlou authored several books and articles about politics and economics. Some of his works have been translated into a number of different languages. His oft-cited work Kurdistan and the Kurds (1965) has been until present days consensually recognized as a valuable source, especially regarding the political geography of Kurdistan, political history of the Kurds and Kurdistan, as well as traditional socio-economic relations in Kurdish society.
In addition to his status as a prominent scholar and one of the greatest leaders of the Kurds, Dr. Ghassemlou’s excellent diplomatic skills earned him an international reputation, especially in Europe. Those who knew or worked with him closely during his academic and political life, Kurds as well as Westerners, recall him as a man of quick wit and a person with a great sense of humor.
Dr. Ghassemlou was elected Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in 1973. He was re-elected to lead the party until his death in 1989.
Dr. Ghassemlou was a resolute advocate of the rights of the Kurdish nation and a determined leader. Although Dr. Ghassemlou strived for a just and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue, he did regard armed struggle as a legitimate means to defend the integrity of the Kurdish people, as well as to compel the Iranian state to come to the negotiating table.
After several months of attempts to persuade the post-revolutionary regime to accept the political demands of the Kurdish national liberation movement, which at that time consisted of autonomy for Kurdistan and democracy for Iran, Dr. Ghassemlou soon realized that the new regime only tries to buy time in order to rebuild its army with the aim to reoccupy Kurdistan. The reoccupation of Kurdistan marked the beginning of a long and bitter war.
Dr. Ghassemlou had been saying for years that the Islamic Republic of Iran had imposed the war on the Kurdish people. He argued, contrary to the understanding of the Islamic Republic, that the war was not a zero-sum game and that, sooner or later, the Kurdish question would have to be resolved through negotiations and peacefully, and that Kurdish demands should be accommodated within such a framework.
In 1989, when Dr. Ghassemlou was in Europe to attend the congress of the Socialist International, Tehran contacted him and proposed negotiations with the PDKI.
PDKI accepted the offer. The first round of talks took place in Vienna on July 12, 1989.
On July 13, the second day of the negotiations, at the place where the negotiations took place, Dr. Ghassemlou, Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar, PDKI’s representative in Europe, and Fadhil Rassoul, a Kurdish university professor in Vienna, were assassinated by the Iranian diplomats.
The next day, at about 7:30 p.m., Vienna police discovered the bullet-riddled bodies of Dr. Ghassemlou, Ghaderi-Azar and Rassoul. Within hours, the police had recovered the murder weapons, detained two suspects and identified a third.
Austrian authorities sent the two suspects back to Tehran. They were even escorted to Vienna airport under police protection.
Dr. Ghassemlou and Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar were buried in Paris on July 20.
Those who ordered the murder of Dr. Ghassemlou were:
Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran (who succeed Ayatollah Khomeini after his death in 1989).
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served as President of Iran from 1989 to 1997.
Ali Akbar Velayati, Foreign Minister of Iran from December 1981 to August 1997.
Ali Akbar Fallahiyan, Intelligence Minister from 1984 to 1989, who is on Interpol’s wanted list in connection with the Assassination of Dr. Ghassemlou’s successor, Dr. Sharafkandi.
The revolution of 1979 in Iran provided a golden opportunity for Dr. Ghassemlou and his party to revive the Kurdish nation’s struggle for liberation after decades of brutal oppression under the Shah’s regime.
Dr. Ghassemlou transformed the PDKI to the needs and demands of a new era. He emerged as the leader of the Kurdish people in Iranian Kurdistan after the revolution. Despite unfavorable conditions, the PDKI provided security and other services to the Kurdish people.
The fanatic and fundamentalist post-revolutionary Islamic regime, which consolidated its power through violent means, used military force to reoccupy Kurdistan. That marked the start of a bitter military conflict between the Peshmerga-forces of PDKI and the Iranian army that lasted until 1996. After the mid-1990s, however, geopolitical conditions no longer were favorable for continued armed struggle.
Ever since his membership in the Democratic Youth Union of Iranian Kurdistan until his death in 1989, Dr. Ghassemlou was a man devoted to the struggle of national liberation. In every critical juncture in the history of his people, Dr. Ghassemlou played a crucial role.
Dr. Ghassemlou’s legacy is rich and multifaceted: he was a scholar, a guerrilla leader, and man of ideas.
At a time when Marxism-Leninism had intellectual hegemony in most parts of the world, and especially in the Middle East, Dr. Ghassemlou, as early as 1983, advocated and attempted to introduce social-democratic ideas in Kurdistan.
He was also an advocate of individual liberty and a defender of gender equality. He emphasized gender equality as a cornerstone of PDKI’s struggle for liberty and justice.
Consequently, even in the realm of ideas, he has had a great impact on many generations of Kurdish intellectuals and on Kurdish political outlook.