Monday , 25 March 2019

Mykonos Assassinations: a Cold Case or an Undelivered Message?

Radiozmaneh – Kazem Darabi, who was convicted of involvement in the Iranian state-sponsored assassinations of dissident Kurds on German soil, ended up serving 15 years behind German bars. Darabi has recently published a book denying his involvement and bringing the story of the Mykonos murders back to life.

Plaque for the victims of the Mykonos assassination

If you have been following Iranian news over the last three decades, the name Mykonos will not be associated, as for many, with a romantic vacation destination in the Aegean Sea, but rather a reminder of a gruesome assassination of Iranian-Kurdish opposition leaders in Germany in the early 90s.

On 17 September 1992, three Iranian Kurdish leaders and their translator were assassinated at Mykonos, a Greek restaurant in Berlin. Masked gunmen burst into the restaurant before midnight and killed the four men including Sadegh Sharafkani, the secretary general of the Iranian Democratic Party of Kurdistan. His predecessor, Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, had been assassinated three years earlier in 1989 in Vienna. A familiar suspect for these assassinations rapidly came to the fore: security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

Although some arrests were made, the Vienna assassination of Ghassemlou never went to trial. The Mykonos assassination case, however, did go to court and the proceedings of which influenced the Iran- Europe relationship significantly in the past three decades.

During the first few days after the killings of Mykonos, the federal German police assigned 20 detectives to the case.  Witnesses said two gunmen entered the Greek restaurant at approximately 11 P.M. and shouted in Persian, “You sons of whores!”.They opened fire on Mr. Sharafkandi and his guests all the while another gunman was guarding the door.  The Kurds in-exile blamed the Iranian secret service agents for the attack.

Assassinations of Iranian opposition figures had become common after the 1979 Islamic revolution, both inside and outside Iran. By September 1992 at least 10 Iranian opposition figures were killed in Europe: in Geneva, London, Vienna and Paris. The Mykonos killings were the first in Germany.

Five Years after the Attack in Berlin

The Mykonos trial began at a court in Berlin in October 1993, five years after the death of SadeghSharafkandi and his guests in the Mykonos Restaurant. On 10 April 1997 the German court ruled its verdict against the five suspects, four Lebanese men and one Iranian who were charged with murder. Four were convicted of the killings, while the fifth, a Lebanese, was acquitted.

Kazem Darabi, the Iranian who according to the court proceedings was the one who organized the killings for the IRI secret service was sentenced to life imprisonment. Abbas Rhayel, accused of firing the fatal shots was also given a life sentence.

German Judge, Frithjof  Kubsch ruled that the men had no personal motive and were simply following orders. He also ruled the murders had been ordered by Iran’s Committee for Special Operation.

Prosecutors believed that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani had personally ordered the killings.

On October 2018 the disappearance and murder of a Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul Turkey created uproar in the western media. The Saudi government was directly accused of the assassination of the Washington Post journalist in the Saudi Consulate. The Saudis were not the first government to be blamed for the murder of a political dissident. Iran, the longtime rival of the oil-rich kingdom, had been blamed for several hundreds of similar murders for many years. These expensive operations in a foreign country have one thing in common; they carry out a message to millions of opponents both inside and outside of Iran: “You will never be safe, and you might pay the price for being an opposition, anytime or anywhere.”

Recently Shahed Alavi, a Journalist based in Washington DC completed an investigative report in which he gathered the names of hundreds of opposition figures, intellectuals, dissidents and minorities who are believed to have been assassinated by IRI government agents.

In Shahed Alevi’s report, covering the last four decades, 472 state murders have been identified. At least 164 of these murders were carried out inside Iran, whilst more than 328 people are believed to have been killed outside of Iran. These acts were perpetrated directly by state agents or by people who were hired by government agents.

Shahed Alavi talking to Zamaneh says the Iranian government could have achieved three objectives by its program of foreign assassinations. Primarily the Islamic Republic simply aims to be rid of influential figures from the opposition. At a secondary level, the goal was punishment or revenge. The third objective is to send a message to political activists and dissidents: “Don’t ever think that you can escape from us”

The IRI has consistently denied any connection to these murders. However, rumors of extra-judicial killing have always tainted the face of the IRI administration.

In some cases, IRI officials have even given statements that could provide evidence of the government’s direct involvement in killings or in issuing the orders for assassinations. For example, the Minister of Information and Security, Ali Fallahian, was reported saying in an interview a couple of weeks before Mykonos killings on 30 August 1992: “We have been able to deal with many of the small groups outside the country and on the borders.  One of those active small groups is the Kurdistan Democratic Party.”

The Mykonos Killer and his Side of the Story

Kazem Darabi, a grocer from Berlin, was one of the men convicted by the German court. He was sentenced to life prison for facilitating the Mykonos murders. Under German law, life sentences are reviewed after 15 years for eligibility for parole. On 10 December 2007, Darabi was awarded early release and immediately deported to Iran.

Kazem Darabi promoting his book

Recently Darabi published his memoir to tell his side of the story, in a book titled: “Teahouse Painting”. In this book, Darabi describes his arrest and trial related to the Mykonos restaurant killings in Berlin.

Last week in an Iranian state TV appearance, Darabi promoted his book and said the court had no evidence against him, claiming his sentence was committed with political motives directed against the Iranian government. Darabi further claims that he still doesn’t know who is responsible for Mykonos killings.

Darabi’s narrative of Mykonos will be translated into German, Arabic, and English.

Hamid Nouzari, a director for Iranian political refugees in Berlin, and one of the people who attended the court sessions told Zamaneh that Darabi’s book is full of lies. Hamid Nouzari has followed the case closely and he is one of the writers of a book about Mykonos titled: “There’s Still a Judge in Berlin: Mykonos Murder and Process”.

Nouzari believes that Darabi’s book has been published with political motivations and could be a project directed by Iranian intelligence.

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