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Martha Note: Today’s Little Thriller is a True Story that Crisscrosses the Globe – excerpted and edited from NPR Interview with Scott Simon and Author, Roya Hakakian.
On September 17, 1992, a political assassination took place in a Greek restaurant in Berlin. Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, chairman of a Kurdish political party in Iran, two of his aides and an exiled dissident were shot to death. Five men, including four Iranians, were arrested by German police. Despite pressures to keep the investigation at the lowest possible level, the German prosecutor assigned to the case began to unravel a tangle of threads that led all the way back to Iran’s supreme leader.
The assassinations go back to 1979 to the Iranian Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. He had expected all ethnicities and minorities throughout Iran to cast aside whatever ethnic or religious or minority interests they had on behalf of his broader Pan-Islamist idea. When the Kurds did not do so, it really created the kind of hostility that lingers. There was already a pattern being established around the world, so any Iranian in exile must live in fear for his or her life.
There were victims in the United States and on to Paris and Rome and Geneva. All over the world. Therefore, not only the Iranian community was certain about who had done it, but they were all certain that in this case everyone would get away with this murder. What makes this story really astounding and beautiful is that it didn’t go the way anybody thought it would.
At the same time, especially in the 1990s, Germany had many interests in revolutionary Iran. Germany had hoped to step into the empty space that the U.S. had left behind after 1979, the seizure of the American embassy and the loss of relations between U.S. and Iran. In many ways, Germany had successfully inched its way into that space, and this case just created a major obstacle in the way of all these efforts going forward.
When Judge Kubsch not only said the men who pulled the triggers will be held responsible, but for the next several minutes, Judge Kubsch traced the history of the Kurds’ persecution since the rise of the Ayatollah to the killings at the Mykonos Restaurant. By then tension had fallen away from him and he was speaking in the same measured and deliberate voice everyone knew.
Speaking the lines the exiles had never thought he would, never believed any foreigner capable of understanding their tale well enough to compose, Judge Kubsch uttered what to their exhausted ears was a lullaby, one of vindication. The orders for the crime that took place on September 17, 1992 in Berlin came from Iran’s supreme leader.
That especially controversial for this court to hold the supreme leader of Iran responsible.
It was historic that a living, ruling leader was being implicated in crimes. And it worked, meaning that it had great repercussions inside Iran for many years to come and even to this day. It was just a mere confrontation with the truth that had never been presented in this way that really made this work.
The subsequent moral stand that the European Union took, because of the judgment, really delivered a blow to the leadership in Iran in a way that no other act has ever done. The simplicity of it, that telling the truth to power can work in a great way is just what makes it sublime.
Roya Hakakian is the author of, Assassins of the Turquoise Palace.