Assassins of the Turqouise Palace by Roya Hakakian – Late in the evening of September 17, 1992 three men entered the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin while a driver waited for them in a black BMW. They went to a private dining area in the back of the restaurant where Kurdish exiles from Iran were meeting to discuss political actions. After cursing the diners as “You sons of whores!” the leader of the intruders opened fire. Four men died.
Each chapter is headed by a quote from Iranian satirist, Hadi Khorsandi and the quote for For Chapter relates to killer’s remark:
Terrorists nowadays! It’s not enough that they kill you; they must also insult you as they do it.
The other quotes equally have a bite to them.
The Kurds of Berlin and the rest of Europe were immediately convinced that the murders were committed by agents of the Iranian Intelligence Services who were killing Iranian dissidents around the world who had been marked for death by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.
German police are less certain. The German government would prefer that the killers were part of the armed section of the violent Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).
While the killers swiftly exit Germany the other two members (Youseff Amin and Abbas Rhayel) of the killing quartet need time to ready themselves to leave the country as they require new passports. Intelligence tips from Britain and the BfV (the federal office for the protection of the constitution) lead the police to the pair and they are arrested before they can depart the country.
The organizer and financier (instructions and funding came from Iran) whose cover was a Berlin grocer (Kazem Darabi) was also arrested.
Once in custody Youssef , the watchman for the killers, provides valuable information on the assassination.
Bruno Jost, the federal prosecutor, assigned to the case is a dedicated, meticulous, incorruptible lawyer determined to build a case not only against the arrested trio but the Government of Iran. He assembles 187 volumes of evidence.
While the actual evidence of guilt is overwhelming many Kurdish exiles doubt there will be a trial. There have been too many examples in Europe during the 1980’s of governments either perfunctorily investigating the deaths of Iranian dissidents or making deals that allow them to go back to Iran. With Germany becoming Iran’s largest European trading partner there is great pressure within the German government to quietly make the prosecution go away.
The laying of the charges is a triumph for the integrity of the German Department of Justice.
While the roles and actions of the lawyers were of the greatest interest to me a large section of the book is focused on the lives of leading dissidents and Shohreh Dehkordi, the widow of Noori Dehkordi, one of those slain.
Amidst doubt the killers would be tried and then doubt there would be an actual verdict the activists persevered in publicizing the case and participating in the trial.
The actual trial consumed 4 years with the court sitting two days each week. I had not known that a major German criminal trial would involve 5 judges. The questioning is essentially done by the judges. It is a torturous process though, when there are judges of ability, there is a thorough examination of the evidence.
There were lawyers for the victims who, under German law, take part in the case. Hans Ehrig provided years of representation pro bono for the victims.
The book provided a great view of how a German trial patiently searches for the truth.
I would have preferred the author to concentrate on one of the groups rather than trying to the stories of the victims, the prosecutors and the lead judge. Telling all the stories diluted the focus of the book.
As I read the book it was like a good mystery. There were bad guys being controlled by a dangerous foreign power. There were victims essentially powerless in the swirling machinations of international politics. There was a dedicated prosecutor and an honest head judge. The intrigues and twists near the end of the trial rival those of skilled writers of crime fiction.
I found myself eager to know if there would be a verdict. Would the trial be prematurely ended by negotiations between the Iranian and German governments?
Having just finished The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver which dealt with the U.S. Government arbitrarily killing those it identifies as its enemies in foreign lands it was very interesting to see how the issue had been dealt with in a trial a generation ago in Europe when it was the Iranian government which was arranging and carrying out the killing of its citizens outside Iran.
I had forgotten about the murderous actions of the Iranian government though they were but 20 years in the past. Iran was rightly condemned. What will history say about America 20 years from now?
Hakakian has written a good book. In my next post I shall discuss this case and two other German cases spanning a century. (Aug. 21/13)