Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu (Ghassemlou)


Age: 59
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Unknown
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: July 13, 1989
Location of Killing: Linke Bahngasse 5, Vienna, Austria
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial shooting
Charges: Armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic; Corruption on earth

About this Case

He took up arms to defend his people's rights, but he knew that the solution for the Iranian Kurdish problem had to be political and not military.

Information about the assassination of Mr. Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, and two of his companions, Mr. Fadhil Rassoul and Mr. Abdollah Qaderi-Azar [Ghaderi-Azar] has been gathered from statements and documents (in Persian and French) by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI):  “A Glance at the Life and Struggles of Martyr Abdollah Qaderi” in Kurdistan magazine; “Abdolrahman Qasemlu,” in a special issue of the Bulletin of the Kurdish Institute of Paris; Memoirs of Helen Krulich (Qasemlu), the widow of Mr. Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, titled, A European Woman in the Land of the Kurds; Parviz Dastmalchi’s investigations, Terror in the Name of God; Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, No Safe Haven:  Iran's Global Assassination Campaign;  Carol Prunhuber “Qāsemlu, Abd-al-Rahmān,” in  Encyclopedia Iranica; Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sahifeye Nur; Kayhan, Ayandegan, and Ettela’at newspapers; reports by IRNA and the Agence France-Presse; and the French newspaper Le Monde. For more information about these sources, see the endnotes. *

A Glance at Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu’s Political Biography

From World War II to the 1953 Iranian Coup d’Etat

Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu was born in 1930, in the village of Qasemlu, at the outskirts of Orumieh in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran.  Dr. Qasemlu’s life and the history of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI)  are indistinguishably tied to each other.  His assassination, too, was planned precisely because of his central role in the Party.

Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu was ten when, following the invasion of Iran by the Allied Forces in 1941 and the Soviet occupation of Northern Iran, independence movements took shape in Azerbaijan (led by Pishevari) and Kurdistan (led by Qazi Mohammad) with support from the Soviet Union.**

Mr. Qasemlu became interested in politics during the reign of Qazi Mohammad in Mahabad and joined the Democratic Party of Kurdistan at the age of 15.  After the fall of Qazi Mohammad and his and his comrades’ execution by the Iranian army, Abdol-Rahman’s father sent him to Tehran to continue his education.  In Tehran, Qasemlu developed an inclination towards communist ideas and became close to the Tudeh party.  Upon finishing high school, Qasemlu moved to Paris for further studies.  In 1948, he received a scholarship and moved to Czechoslovakia, where he studied at the School of Political and Economic Science, in Prague.  He identified as a Marxist- Leninist during this time.  (Krulich: 27)  After receiving his BA in 1953 (during Mossadeq’s term as Prime Minister), Mr. Qasemlu returned to Iran and started his activities to revive the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, essentially, at the time, a branch of the pro-soviet communist Tudeh party.  In 1955, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan officially severed its organizational ties with the Tudeh party.  (Iranica:  Qāsemlu)  The 1953 Iranian Coup d’Etat, which reaffirmed the Shah’s dictatorship and was followed by intensified political pressure and suppression in Iran, led the autonomist Kurdish forces to relocate to Iraq.

From 1953 Coup d’Etat to the 1979 Revolution

Qasemlu stayed in Iraq for a year, in 1959, and then returned to Czechoslovakia to continue studying for his Master’s and Ph.D.  After his graduation, in 1962, he started teaching in the School of Economics in Prague.  (Krulich:  193-194)

Qasemlu was elected Secretary General of the Democratic Party at the party’s third congress (1973) and stayed in this position for the rest of his life.  In his capacity as Secretary General, and with the help of his comrades, Qasemlu devised a modern and democratic agenda for the party and changed its name to the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI).  The Party's slogan became “Autonomy for Kurdistan and Democracy for Iran.”

The invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces in 1968, and the suppression of reformists in that country, led Qasemlu away from the Marxist-Leninist ideology and closer to Social Democracy.  In 1976, Czechoslovakia officials canceled Qasemlu’s and his family’s residency in that country, and he left and took residence in Paris.  (Krulich: 197)

 During the Revolution:  Armed Struggle and Turning Away from It

On August 31, 1978, Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu returned to Iran.  At the time of his return, PDKI had no more than a few hundred members. However, in February 1979, a few months after Qasemlu’s return, the number of members reached 50,000. During Khomeini’s stay in Neauphle-le-Château (6 October 1978-1stFebruary 1979), in the outskirts of Paris, Qasemlu tried to meet with him twice to exchange ideas, but Ayatollah Khomeini refused to meet him.  (Krulich:  210-211) On March 3, 1979, after 32 years of clandestine activities, the PDKI started its public activities in Iran.  (Kayhan:  3 March 1979)

Ayatollah Khomeini’s political program, which sought to establish the Absolute Guardianship of the Jurist (Valayat e Faqih) and to limit the political freedoms of different-minded individuals, was at odds with the agenda of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, which sought “democracy for Iran and autonomy for Kurdistan.”  The latter advocated the separation of church and state and, therefore, boycotted the referendum for the establishment of the Islamic Republic (30-31st March 1979).   From spring to summer of 1979, armed conflicts ensued between supporters of the Democratic Party and forces connected to Ayatollah Khomeini gradually intensified.  In the election (3 August 1979) for members of the Assembly of Experts (restricted Constituent Assembly), Qasemlu earned 80% of the votes in Orumieh and was elected representative of that city. On August 18, in a gathering of the members of the Assembly of Experts, Khomeini called the PDKI, “a terrorist association,” “a corrupted association,” and a “corrupter association” and announced Qasemlu as corrupted.  (Sahifeye Nur:  8/253)  On August 20, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, in a message to the people of Kurdistan, banned the PDKI for being “the party of Satan.”  (Sahifeye Nur:  8/257)

In this way, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran blocked the road to any peaceful resolution possible for the Kurdish problem. The army was sent to the region to suppress the Kurds.  The Revolutionary Guard Corps and the army fought the Kurdish peshmerga fighters for three months in order to gain control over Kurdish cities and more or less succeeded at the end.  On October 20, 1979, Qasemlu announced in Mahabad that the armed struggle of the Kurds would continue in the form of a guerilla warfare.  (Iranica:  Qāsemlu)  For three years after this announcement, the Democratic Party forces had control over a significant part of Kurdistan, except for the cities. However, with time, they had to leave the region and settle down in Iraqi Kurdistan.  (July 1984)

Dr. Qasemlu believed that the “Kurdish problem” would not have a military solution but a political one that had to be reached via dialogue.  Dr. Qasemlu’s comrades in the PDKI speak of him as a “man of peace and dialogue,” “a charismatic leader,” “an eloquent speaker,” and a cultivated and well-read man, who spoke several languages, including Kurdish, Persian, Turkish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, French and English.  Ms. Helen Qasemlu, herself an avid defender of the rights of the Kurdish people, remembers him as a lovable, inexhaustible, and resolute trooper, who captivated those around him with his humor and contagious laughter and did not turn away from any opportunity to sacrifice himself for his goal, which was nothing but restoring the rights of the Kurdish people.  He sacrificed his life and his family’s for this cause.  Dr. Qasemlu had two daughters.

The Assassination:  Murder in Vienna 

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war (July 18, 1988), Islamic Republic officials invited Dr. Qasemlu for negotiations through the Iraqi Kurdish leader, Jalal Talibani.  (Iranica:  Qāsemlu)  Believing that the Kurdish problem could not be resolved through military action, Dr. Qasemlu accepted the invitation for negotiations, with PDKI’s central committee’s approval. The first round of these secret negotiations took place in Vienna, on the 30th and 31st of December, 1988 (PDKI: “The Life and Death of Qasemlu”).  The Iranian delegation sent to negotiate was led by Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi, the head of Kurdish Affairs in the Ministry of Intelligence.  In Qasemlu’s opinion, the negotiation process was positive, and they agreed on meeting a second time. The next meeting took place on January 19, 1989.  At the end of this round of negotiations, the Iranian delegation appeared to have agreed with the basic idea of autonomy for the Kurdish people and were only going to discuss the details of implementing it with their government.  (PDKI:  “Life and Death of Qasemlu”)  Six months later, during one of Qasemlu’s trips to Europe, Islamic Republic officials contacted him again.  Khomeini had passed away and Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the parliament, who was running for presidency, was promising reforms and an end to Iran’s international isolation to both the Iranian people and the international community.  Islamic Republic officials insisted that Dr. Qasemlu attend the negotiations and refused to take part in a meeting in his absence in March.  (Human Rights Documentation Center: 28)

On 12 July 1989, Qasemlu, along with Mr. Abdollah Qaderi-Azar, the representative of PDKI in Europe, and Fadhil Rassoul, an Iraqi Kurdish resident of Vienna, who was in contact with Islamic Republic officials and acted as a mediator, met with the Iranian delegation in an apartment in Vienna.  The location of the apartment, 5 Linke Bahngasse, was not known to either of the negotiating parties, and Fadhil Rassoul, who had provided the apartment, took each delegation there separately.  Since the negotiations did not yield any results in that meeting, the parties agreed to meet at 5:30 p.m., the next day for a second meeting.  Mr. Fadhil Rassoul would be waiting at the apartment for the representatives of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the delegation sent by the Islamic Republic.  At 5:30 p.m., Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu and Abdollah Qaderi arrived at the location without any cautionary and security provisions.  (Human Rights Documentation Center:  29)  A few minutes later, the Islamic Republic of Iran delegation, including Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi (head of Kurdish Affairs in the Ministry of Intelligence) and Amir Mansour Bozorgian (real name:  Ghafour Darjazi, member of Special Operations forces of the Revolutionary Guards Corps) joined them.  Dr. Qasemlu had secretly recorded the negotiations, and the tape was later handed over by the Austrian police to PDKI officials, who saw to the publication of the text of the negotiations.  (Dastmalchi:  289-290)

During these negotiations, Sahraroudi emphasizes the need for the negotiations to remain secret, so that the enemies do not manage to prevent them from continuing and reaching a conclusion.  Dr. Qasemlu reminds them of the two main points brought up in previous negotiations, i.e. autonomy for Kurdistan and the right to public political activity for PDKI.  Another point emphasized by Qasemlu is the problem of disarming the Kurdish peshmerga fighters after ten years of fighting.  He also emphasizes that autonomy is one of the main goals of the Kurdish movement and that nothing can be gained from denying it.  Qasemlu reminds the Iranian delegation that leaving the Kurdish problem unresolved can intensify separatist tendencies among Kurds.  In response, Sahraroudi refers to Islam and Islamic principles that determine Tehran’s policies.  And Dr. Qasemlu emphasizes the principle of autonomy again.  At the end of these negotiations, Fadhil Rassoul, the Iraqi Kurdish mediator, encourages the negotiating parties to reach an agreement and points out that, perhaps, the same conditions for peaceful negotiations might not exist in three years.  (Text of negotiations published in Le Monde newspaper, 1 January, 1998)

“Shortly after this proposal, there was a flurry of gunshots, in which two weapons could distinctly be heard. Dr. Qasemlu was shot in the forehead, temple and throat.” A final shot was also delivered to him (Human Rights Documentation Center:  29).  Sahraroudi was wounded by a single bullet and received no final shot.

“Sahraroudi gets out of the apartment [at about 7:20 p.m.] and rings the neighbor’s doorbell.  The neighbor calls the police immediately and, 10 minutes later, the police arrive at Bahngasse.  Sahraroudi has fallen on the pavement, covered in blood.  A little later, Bozorgian (Darjazi) appears and accompanies the police to Apartment 5, where the negotiations had taken place.  The two police officers who entered the apartment with him found a bloody envelope, containing $9400 in their body search of Mr. Bozergian.”  (Dastmalchi:  291)

 Iranian Officials' Reaction

Islamic Republic officials deny any association with the murder conspiracy of Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, Abdollah Qaderi-Azar, and Fadhil Rassoul.  In police interrogations, Sahraroudi claims that the murderers were unknown individuals who attacked the apartment during the negotiations and shot at all the negotiators present from the entrance and then ran away.  Two days after the assassination of the leader of PDKI along with Mr. Qaderi-Azar and Mr. Fadhil Rassoul, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Minister of Interior, Ali Akbar Mohtashami, said in a press conference that the Iraqi government was probably responsible for the crime.  He also claimed that the aim of the meeting between Mr. Qasemlu and the Islamic Republic delegation had been to discuss the return of repentant Kurds to Iran and to sort out their problem with the Judiciary.  (Agence France-Presse, quoting IRNA:  15 June 1989)  The Minister of the Interior was not aware that Dr. Qasemlu had recorded the negotiations secretly.

Austrian Officials' Reaction

Immediately after the crime was detected, the head of the Austrian Special Unit for Combating Terrorism, Mr. Oswald Kessler, was assigned to pursue and investigate the case. After a close examination of the location of the crime and the existing evidence, he made the following remarks:  

 -        There is no sign on the door of the apartment, proving that it had been opened by force.

-        All three Kurdish individuals have received final shots.

-        Two of the three Kurds were caught completely by surprise and were killed while sitting.  If a stranger had entered the room from outside, they would absolutely not remain seated in their place.

-        Mostafavi (Ajudi) has escaped and is in hiding.

-        The apartment is situated such that it is impossible to figure out the layout of the interior from outside, which means the murderers had to be familiar with the apartment from the inside.

-        The murderers had to know exactly where each of the victims was sitting, in order to avoid wrong shots in a storming operation, such as the one carried out.

-        This is not a classic assassination and, rather, resembles assassinations carried out by security and  intelligence services.  In the classic model, the victim and the murderer meet each other for the first time not in a private home but in front of a hotel, in the airport, and so forth, whereas, in this case the murderer and the victim knew each other beforehand, and the murderers had managed to gain the trust of the victims.

-        And the eighth reason for Kessler is that, based on his information, Qasemlu and Qaderi had been negotiating with the delegation sent by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Based on this evidence, Mr. Oswald Kessler says:

“ ... the Kurds have been murdered, and the Islamic Republic of Iran officials have stayed alive.  For us, the issue is quite obvious.  The rest depends on the politicians.”  (Dastmalchi:  291-292)

Sahraroudi and Bozorgian (Darjazi) are separately interrogated by Austrian officials, the first in the hospital and the latter in the police station.  Sahraroudi says that, at the moment when the murderers entered the apartment, Bozorgian was in the bathroom.  And Bozorgian claims that, at the time of the shooting, he had gone to McDonalds and was not present in the building.  (Human Rights Documentation Center: 30).  The disparity between the witness statements of two of the members of the Iranian delegation, as well as the fact that the third one has run away and disappeared, has intensified suspicions that these individuals have indeed committed the murders.

Further investigations by the police strengthened the hypothesis that the murders were carried out by the negotiating delegation sent by the Islamic Republic of Iran:  “Analysis of the shooting determined that the assassins could not have fired at the Kurds from the doorway. The trajectory of the bullets indicated that they had been fired from the direction of the IRI delegation.  Furthermore, discarded shell casings were found where the IRI negotiators had been sitting and not near the doorway. Two automatic pistols equipped with silencers and a bloodstained windbreaker were eventually discovered in a garbage dump, along with the key to a Suzuki motorcycle. A bill of sale found with the key led the police to a salesman who identified Sahraroudi as having purchased the bike. Sahraroudi had used the pseudonym Mostafa Mostafavi for the transaction. The Austrian Public Prosecutor finally issued warrants for the arrest of Bozorgian, Sahraroudi, and Ajoudi on November 28, 1989, three months after they were escorted by the Austrian Police to the airport.”  It appears that Bozorgian left Austria on November 30, 1989. (Human Rights Documentation Center:  31)

A few months after Austrian Police released the suspected murderers of Dr. Qasemlu, Mr. Qaderi-Azar, and Mr. Fadhil Rassoul, the Austrian Public Prosecutor issued warrants for their (Bozorgian’s, Sahraroudi’s, and Ajudi’s) arrest on November 28, 1989.  In October 2013, Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi went to Geneva for an international conference.  Despite the demands of the Kurdish and other political activists, the Swiss and Austrian governments made no special effort to have him arrested by Interpol or to act upon his warrant.  About the unwillingness of Austrian officials to pursue Qasemlu’s case judicially, a high-ranking Austrian official told Time Magazine:

“No country wants to prosecute a terrorist case.  [...]  A convicted terrorist faces a life sentence, which means, in Austria, at least 15 years. That means that, for 15 years, you are at risk [of terrorist attacks].”

Family Remarks

Ms. Helen Krulich, Mr. Qasemlu’s widow, objected from the very beginning to the course of the investigations and the slow reaction of Austrian officials and later to the release of the suspects and their return to Iran.  Ms. Qasemlu filed suit against the Republic of Austria on 2 August 1991. “She accused the government of refraining from investigating the assassination of Dr. Qasemlu diligently and allowing the assassins to leave Austria safely. She alleged that the Austrian government wilfully barred the police authorities from investigating the case, because of pressure from the IRI and illegal arms deals between the state-owned Austrian enterprise “Voest” and the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war.  [...] The Austrian court dismissed the case without hearing evidence, ruling that Ms. Krulich had failed to make a prime facie case and that it lacked jurisdiction to hear a case against the IRI. This decision was confirmed by the Appellate Court of Vienna (Oberlandesgericht Wien) and dismissed [...] .” (Human Rights Documentation Center:  32) Ms. Qasemlu wrote in her memoirs that the Austrian court had made her pay 80,000 shillings to cover court expenses.  Ms. Qasemlu had written, in response to the judiciary officials, that she preferred to go to prison as an insolvent debter than to pay a dime to a judiciary that supports state terrorism. Judiciary officials did not pursue the matter further.


* Sources:
-        Statements and documents by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in Persian and French:
           “Vie et mort d’Abdul Rahman Qasemlu : Homme de Pais et de Dialogue”: http://www.pdk-iran.org/french/doc/kasemlu.htm
-        “A Glance at the Life and Struggles of Martyr Abdollah Qaderi”:
       “Negahi be Zendegi va Mobarezat e Shahid Abdollah Qaderi” in Kurdistan magazine, Issue 163
-        Memoirs of Helen Qasemlu (Krulich), widow of Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu: “A European Woman in the Land of the Kurds”:
                Hélène Krulich, Une Européenne au pays des kurdes, Karthala, 2011
-        Parviz Dastmalchi, Terror in the Name of God [Terror be name ‘Khoda’], First Edition, Summer 1392 (2013)
-        Iran Human Rights Documentation Center: “No Safe Hsven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign:http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3152-no-safe-haven-iran-s-global-assassination-campaign.html
-        Carol Prunhuber, “QĀSEMLU, ‘ABD-AL-RAḤMĀN”, in Encyclopaedia Iranica: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/qasemlu
-        Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sahifeye Nur (Collection of Writings and Speeches), Ministry of Islamic Guidence, Tehran, 1361 (1982), Vols. 8 & 9
-        Keyhan, Ayandegan, and Ettela’at newspapers, Le Monde newspaper 
** On August 16, 1945, Qazi Mohammad and 105 Kurdish elites published a statement in which they announced the establishment of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan to the public and listed the agenda and demands of the Party in 8 paragraphs: The first paragraph emphasizes freedom and the right to autonomy: “The Kurdish people of Iran must have freedom and autonomy in administering their own affairs, and they must have the right to be autonomous within the borders of Iran.”  The signatories of this statement based their claim to the right of autonomy on the Iranian Constitution.  As the third paragraph of the statement emphasizes: “The local government of Kurdistan must be immediately elected in accordance with the Constitutional Law (Constitution 1905) and oversee all social and governmental affairs (of the Kurdish regions).”  The next paragraphs referred to cultural, economic, and administrative rights of the people of Kurdistan.  Following a meeting with the Soviet Consulate in Tabriz and a trip to Baku to meet with Jafar Bagherof, the Prime Minister of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, in October 1945, Qazi Mohammad, the leader of the autonomist forces of Kurdistan, learned that the Democratic faction of Azerbaijan would soon implement a plan for an autonomous government in Eastern Azerbaijan (December 1945).  On January 22, 1946, the establishment of the Republic of Mahabad led by Qazi Mohammad was officially announced.  Once the Soviet forces left the North-Western regions of Iran, the Republic of Mahabad lost the military and economic supports of the Soviets and internal tensions among Kurdish forces made the Republic even more vulnerable.  On December 7, 1946, the Iranian army occupied Mahabad and the Republic of Mahabad fell after 11 months. Qazi Mohammad, his brother, and the Minister of War of the Republic of Mahabad were tried in a military court and hanged on March 31, 1947. The Democratic Party of Kurdistan was banned.

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