Fallen But Not Forgotten

Washington Kurdish Institute

By: Alan Balnour July 30, 2019

Thirty years ago, a legendary leader left behind a legacy that will not be forgotten. The impact made by Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou will forever stay in our minds. He sacrificed his life to fight for a better cause for his people.

Dr. Ghassemlou was born into a wealthy feudal family in Urmia, Iran, on December 22nd, 1930. He received his education in Urmia before continuing his studies in the capital city of Tehran. At the age of 15, he witnessed the era of the Republic of Mahabad and soon became a co-founder member of KDP-I. He eventually left Iran to continue his studies in France and then later in Prague. In Prague, he met his future wife Helen Krulich, and they had two daughters together, Mina and Hiwa. He earned a Ph.D. in Economics and was an Associate Professor at both the Sorbonne University in Paris, where he taught Kurdish studies, and in Prague, where he taught international economics. Dr. Ghassemlou published several books and articles about politics and economics, many of which have been translated into several different languages.

In addition to his educational background, he emphasized many ideals. Along with Alexander Dubček, Dr. Ghassemlou emphasized the idea of social democracy,  the system employed by many European countries today.

Dr. Ghassemlou eventually came back to Kurdistan in 1952 and spent several years as an active militant in the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (PDKI). In 1973, during the third congress of the PDKI, he was elected secretary-general, a position for which he would win reelection several more times. In 1979, his party supported the revolution which led to the fall of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. After PDKI militants overtook regime military compounds in Kurdish areas, Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution, demanded all armed groups become part of one revolutionary organization and demanded Kurdish militants to return their weapons. Dr. Ghassemlou refused to lay down weapons, demanding autonomy for Kurds, as it was essential to keep the weapons in order to protect his people from the control of the new regime. Eventually, the party boycotted the referendum of the new constitution, leading to a bloody confrontation between Kurds and the forces loyal to Khomeini. This confrontation and the Kurdish resistance still exists in today’s times.

Negotiations and Tragedy

In 1988, the Iran-Iraq war ended, and the Iranian regime decided to meet with Dr. Ghassemlou. This was done through several meetings in Vienna, Austria. Another meeting was later scheduled for July 13th, 1989, in Vienna. However, tragedy struck that day. In the very room where the meeting was held, Dr. Ghassemlou was shot and killed from three bullets at a very close range. His assistant and member of the PDKI’s Central Committee Abdullah Ghaderi and Professor Fadhil Rassoul who was a mediator, were also killed. However, his last assistant, Hadji Moustafawi, came out alive. In November, in 1989, the Austrian courts issued a warrant for the arrest of three Iranian representatives, accusing the Iranian regime in the plot behind the attack. Unfortunately, the three representatives returned freely to Iran.
Furthermore, the Iranian regime rewarded them with economic benefits. The assassination of Dr. Ghassemlou went unnoticed and was not given much attention by the rest of the world. What makes it worse is that the person behind these attacks is Mohammad Jafar Sahraroudi, who holds a high position in the Iranian Government today. The situation of Mr. Sahraroudi displays the brutality and corruption of the Iranian regime in that assassinations of political leaders go unpunished. Those who should be punished instead gain rewards from the regime for doing such actions.

The legacy that Dr. Ghassemlou has left behind is one that is hard to forget. He was similar to a founding father in the manner that he sparked the idea of Kurdish autonomy in Iran. He was one of only a few that tried to stand up against this brutal regime that exists in the lands of Persia. His ideas were embraced by not only Kurds but many Europeans as well. Dr. Ghassemlou’s excellent diplomatic skills earned him an international reputation, especially in Europe. Dr. Ghassemlou was a resolute advocate of the rights of his people and a determined leader who did not rule out rebellion. However, the thing that most people enjoyed about him was that he was a man of peace and gave it a chance whenever possible. He went to the negotiating table in good faith. He wanted to settle this conflict in the most peaceful way possible. His character and his knowledge made him a great leader. His skills and traits have left a never-ending legacy which holds significant influence over many Kurds. However, by assassinating the Kurdish leader, the Iranian regime lived up to the reputation that it is not trustworthy, and that assassination is part of its political mentality and practice.

Although today was about the great legacy of Dr. Ghassemlou, there is a bigger message to this. That message is that many tragic events occur throughout the time that goes unnoticed by the international community. For example, the response by the international community has been poor to many of the actions that the Iranian regime commits. Iran’s regime is one of the biggest sponsorers of terrorism in the world, but their actions go unnoticed by many. The international community must be more aware of what this brutal regime does. The actions of the Iranian government being pushed aside is one of many examples.

Today itself holds issues that go unnoticed. The tragic events that are occurring in Sudan are kept quiet and would not have even been brought up if it were not for the Muslim community in America, raising awareness. Many people and children are dying from starvation as well as the massacres that are occurring.

Besides the events of current times, there are the genocides that have occurred throughout time. The genocide in Armenia was never given enough attention. Approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Turkish government officials, and yet the response was poor from the international community. Teachings of the genocide are banned in Turkey and major countries, such as the U.S., have not recognized the event as a genocide. The Armenian community continues to push for the remembrance of it, and many countries have not taken the right action. In addition to the Armenian genocide, the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Kurds in Iraq were not given much attention. Little to no response was taken, and these issues were pushed aside. Many of the people responsible received little to no punishment for their actions. Such events never leave the minds of those who went through it. What makes it more sorrowful for them is when no action is taken to receive justice.

The overall message is that if the U.S. government and the international community want to be a role model for peace, they must be aware of all issues that occur in the world and to take action against those who oppress freedoms and existence of people. No person should be harmed for speaking out their ideals and mind. Those who oppress these freedoms should be punished for doing so. They must work along with the advocates to keep the world happy. Cooperation and awareness is the key to maintaining peace and stability in this world.