Ashraf Pahlavi

Last updated

Princess Ashraf
Born(1919-10-26)26 October 1919
Tehran, Persia
Died7 January 2016(2016-01-07) (aged 96)
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Burial14 January 2016
  • Ali Ghavam
    (m. 1937;div. 1942)
  • Ahmad Shafiq
    (m. 1944;div. 1960)
  • Mehdi Bushehri(m. 1960)
Full name
English: Ashraf ol-Molouk
Persian: اشرف الملوک
House Pahlavi
Father Reza Shah
Mother Tadj ol-Molouk

Princess Ashraf ol-Molouk Pahlavi [1] (Persian : اشرف الملوک پهلوی, Aŝraf Pahlawi, 26 October 1919 – 7 January 2016) was the twin sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (Persia), and a member of the Pahlavi dynasty. She was considered the "power behind her brother" and was instrumental in the 1953 coup which led to him taking the throne. [2] She served her brother as a palace adviser and was a strong advocate for women's rights. [3] Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, she lived in exile in France, New York, Paris and Monte Carlo and remained outspoken against the Islamic Republic. [2]

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 20th-century Shah of Iran

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as Mohammad Reza Shah, was the last Shah of Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979. Mohammad Reza Shah took the title Shahanshah on 26 October 1967. He was the second and last monarch of the House of Pahlavi. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi held several other titles, including that of Aryamehr and Bozorg Arteshtaran ("Commander-in-Chief"). His dream of what he referred to as a "Great Civilisation" in Iran led to a rapid industrial and military modernisation, as well as economic and social reforms.

Shah Persian title

Shah is a title given to the emperors, kings, princes and lords of Iran. It was also adopted by the kings of Shirvan namely the Shirvanshahs. It was also used by Persianate societies such as the rulers and offspring of the Ottoman Empire, Mughal emperors of the Indian Subcontinent, the Bengal Sultanate, as well as in Afghanistan. In Iran the title was continuously used; rather than King in the European sense, each Persian ruler regarded himself as the Shahanshah or Padishah of the Persian Empire.


Early life

Ashraf Pahlavi was born in Tehran on 26 October 1919, five hours after her brother Mohammad Reza. Her parents were Reza Pahlavi, a military commander, who would become the Shah of Persia, and Tadj ol-Molouk, the second of his four wives. [3] She had 10 siblings and half-siblings. [3]

Tehran Capital and largest city of Iran

Tehran is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With a population of around 8.7 million in the city and 15 million in the larger metropolitan area of Greater Tehran, Tehran is the most populous city in Iran and Western Asia, and has the second-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. It is ranked 24th in the world by the population of its metropolitan area.

Reza Shah Shah of the Imperial State of Iran

Reza Shah Pahlavi, commonly known as Reza Shah, was the Shah of Iran from 15 December 1925 until he was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran on 16 September 1941.

Tadj ol-Molouk Queen consort of Iran

Tadj ol-Molouk was Queen of Iran as the wife of Reza Shah, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty and Shah of Iran between 1925 and 1941. The title she was given after becoming Queen means "Crown of the Kings" in the Persian language. She was the first Queen in Iran after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century to have participated in public royal representation and played a major role in the Kashf-e hijab in 1936.

In the early 1930s, Ashraf Pahlavi, her older sister Shams, and their mother were among the first significant Iranian women to cease wearing the traditional veil. [3]

Shams Pahlavi elder sister of the last Shah of Iran

Princess Shams Pahlavi was the elder sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. During her brother's reign she was the president of the Red Lion and Sun Society.

Hijab veil worn by Muslim women

A hijab in common English usage is a veil worn by some Muslim women in the presence of any male outside of their immediate family, which usually covers the head and chest. The term can refer to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim women that conforms to Islamic standards of modesty. Hijab can also refer to the seclusion of women from men in the public sphere, or it may denote a metaphysical dimension, for example referring to "the veil which separates man or the world from God." People usually talk about "the hijab" rather than "a hijab", as evidenced by this article.

Ashraf Pahlavi was not permitted to attend university and instead was married in 1937, at the age of 18, to Mirza Khan Ghavam, whose family was politically allied with her father. [3]


A young Ashraf Pahlavi Young Ashraf Pahlavi.jpg
A young Ashraf Pahlavi

Involvement in 1953 coup against Mossadegh

In 1953, Ashraf Pahlavi played an important role in Operation Ajax as the one who changed Mohammad Reza Shah's mind in giving consent to the CIA and SIS to start the operation. [4] The Shah had originally opposed the operation and for a while resisted accepting it. In early 1953, she met with CIA agents who asked her to talk to her brother since she was the only one who was able to influence him. As historian Stephen Kinzer's book All the Shah's Men recounts, "Ashraf was enjoying life in French casinos and nightclubs when one of Kermit Roosevelt's best Iranian agents, Assadollah Rashidian, paid her a call. He found her reluctant, so the next day a delegation of American and British agents came to pose the invitation in stronger terms. The leader of the delegation, a senior British operative named Norman Darbyshire, had the foresight to bring a mink coat and a packet of cash. When Ashraf saw these emoluments, Darbyshire later recalled, "her eyes lit up and her resistance crumbled." [5] By her own account, Pahlavi was offered a blank check if she agreed to return to Iran from her enforced exile in France, but refused the money and returned of her own accord. [6]

1953 Iranian coup détat overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran

The 1953 Iranian coup d'état, known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup d'état, was the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favour of strengthening the monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States, and the first United States covert action to overthrow a foreign government during peacetime.

The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6, is the foreign intelligence service of the government of the United Kingdom, tasked mainly with the covert overseas collection and analysis of human intelligence (HUMINT) in support of the UK's national security. SIS is a member of the country's intelligence community and its Chief is accountable to the country's Foreign Secretary.

Stephen Kinzer American historian, journalist and writer

Stephen Kinzer is an American author, journalist and academic. He was a New York Times correspondent, has published several books, and currently writes for several newspapers and news agencies.

Some historians argue that the coup would have occurred with or without Ashraf Pahlavi's persuasion of her brother. In an International Journal of Middle East Studies article, writer Mark Gasiorowski states that the Shah "was not consulted about the decision to undertake the coup, about its manner of execution, or about the candidate chosen to replace Mossadegh" [7] and that the coup was instead largely executed by the United States and others looking to undermine Mossadegh's leadership.

Mohammad Mosaddegh Prime Minister of Iran in the 1950s

Mohammad Mosaddegh was the 35th prime minister of Iran, holding office from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état orchestrated by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom's MI6.

Political activities

Ashraf Pahlavi heading a meeting Ashraf-meeting.png
Ashraf Pahlavi heading a meeting

Ashraf Pahlavi was a strong supporter of women's rights in Iran and the world during her brother's reign. In 1967, Pahlavi worked with the United Nations as the Iranian delegate to the Commission on Human Rights as well as the Economic and Social Council. [8] In 1975, she was heavily involved with the International Women's Year, and addressed the United Nations. [3]

Though an instrumental force in legitimizing gender reforms, her philosophy on gender was not particularly introspective: "I confess that even though since childhood I had paid a price for being a woman, in terms of education and personal freedom, I had not given much thought to specific ways in which women in general were more oppressed than men." [9] By her own account, she was a strong supporter of the rights of women to basic life necessities such as "food, education, and health" [10] and was not a radical reformist. She cited "chronic apathy" [10] from many governments as the underlying issue that prevented women's rights reforms from being implemented around the world.

Ashraf Pahlavi's women's rights stance was called into question after the publication of her 1976 The New York Times op-ed piece, "And Thus Passeth International Women's Year." In a March 1976 article in The Nation , writer Kay Boyle criticized Ashraf for her touting of International Women's Year as succeeding in widening the global vision of sisterhood, while approximately 4,000 of the Princess's own "sisters" were political prisoners in Iran with virtually no hope of a military trial. [11]

In her 1980 memoirs, Pahlavi acknowledges the poor conditions of women in Iran and expresses concern, as she writes, "the news of what was happening to Iran's women was extremely painful…[they] were segregated and relegated to second-class status…many were imprisoned or exiled." [12]

Ashraf along with other imperial family members, at a dinner with US President Jimmy Carter in Niavaran Palace ShahCarter.gif
Ashraf along with other imperial family members, at a dinner with US President Jimmy Carter in Niavaran Palace

Additionally, Pahlavi worked as an activist for human rights and equality. She was an advocate for the international spread of literacy, especially in Iran, where her brother Mohammad Reza Shah was a major proponent of the anti-illiteracy movement. She served as a member on the International Consultative Liaison Committee for Literacy. [12]

Ashraf Pahlavi was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt in the summer of 1977 at her summer home on the French Riviera, during which fourteen bullets were fired into the side of her Rolls Royce automobile. Her Lady-in-waiting was killed but Pahlavi left the scene unharmed. [1] [13] [14]

After the 1979 revolution, Ashraf Pahlavi asked David Rockefeller to support her brother Mohammad Reza's attempts to find asylum. [15]

She also attacked U.S President Jimmy Carter and the United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim for not giving their support to her late brother the Shah during the start of the Revolution. [14]

In 1994 she attended the funeral of former president Richard Nixon. [16]

Character and finance

Ashraf with her twin brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Ashraf et shah.jpg
Ashraf with her twin brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Ashraf Pahlavi argued that she was "attacked for financial misconduct" because she was engaged "in the administration of various organizations". [17] By her own account, she was of limited financial means when Mossadegh sent her into exile in Paris. [18] However, in later years she was said to have accumulated a large fortune. She attributed her wealth to increases in the value of lands that she had inherited from her father Reza Shah, and income from inherited businesses. [3] Nevertheless, it has been purported that part of the story behind the build up of her fortune may have been that during the Iranian industrial boom, which was driven by a surge in oil prices, Pahlavi and her son Shahram took 10% or more of a new company's stock gratis in return insuring (sic) the delivery of a license to operate, to import, to export, or to deal with the government. Government licenses were said to be given only to a few well-connected companies in each field. As a result, the need to get and keep a license became a cost that had to be met. [19]

In 1979, The New York Times reported that a document dated 17 September 1978 from Ashraf's office requested a transfer of $708,000 from her Bank Melli account to her account at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Geneva under the code name 'Sapia'. [14]

In 1980, Pahlavi published an article in The New York Times, in which she came out in defense of herself and her family's financial situation. In the article, she argued that her wealth was not accumulated through "ill-gotten gains" and attributed her fortune to inherited land, which "drastically increased in value with the development of Iran and the new prosperity that was there for all". [14] She noted that many other Iranians profited from the sale of their own real estate, but were not accused of financial misconduct because of close ties to the clergy and Khomeini. [14] She also defended her brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, stating that, contrary to the claims made by some Khomeini supporters, the Shah did not profit from the Pahlavi Foundation. [14] The Princess wrote that she planned to "fight these slanders with all my means and through whatever judicial means are available." [14]

Psychologically, Ashraf Pahlavi had low self-esteem when she was younger. She did not like "what she saw in the mirror." She "wished for someone else's face,…, fairer skin, and more height." She always imagined that "there were so few people in this world shorter than I." [20] Perhaps this motivated her to be bold. In her memoirs she wrote:

Two decades ago French journalists named me "La Panthère Noire" (The Black Panther), I must admit that I rather like this name, and that in some respects it suits me. Like the panther, my nature is turbulent, rebellious, self-confident. Often, it is only through strenuous effort that I maintain my reserve and my composure in public. But in truth, I sometimes wish I were armed with the panther's claws so that I might attack the enemies of my country. [21]

Her brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Mohammad Reza Shah) was her closest friend. In her memoirs, she remembers looking upon him with a sense of wonder as a child, writing, "long before we reached adulthood, his voice became the dominant one in my life." [22]

Some sources mention a connection between her and drug trafficking; [23] she said: "My detractors have accused me of being a smuggler, a spy, a Mafia associate (once even a drug dealer)". [21]

Notable positions held

Marriages and children

First marriage

Pahlavi's first marriage was to Mirza 'Ali Muhammed Khan Ghavam, Nasir ud-Daula (1911–?). They were married in March 1937 and divorced in 1942. Ghavam was the Assistant Military Attaché for Iran in 1941 in Washington DC and the eldest son of H.H. Mirza Ibrahim Khan Ghavam, Qavam ul-Mulk. She had one son from her first marriage, H.H. Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahram Pahlavi-Nia (born 18 April 1940, Tehran). In 1966 he married 16-year-old Niloufar Afshar, and the couple had one son, Cyrus, in 1969. Pahlavi-Nia had another son, Amir Ebrahim (born 1974) out of wedlock with Naz Alam, a daughter of the Shah's longtime minister of court and confidante, Asadollah Alam. In 1987 Shahram and Naz had an Islamic marriage ceremony in the US Virgin Islands. [25]

Second marriage

Ashraf and her spouse, Ahmed Shafiq (Ashraf and her husband.jpeg) shrf phlwy dr knr hmsrsh Hmd shfyq.jpg
Ashraf and her spouse, Ahmed Shafiq

Pavlavi's second marriage was to (Sahib ul-Izza) Ahmed Chafik Bey (21 September 1911 – 1976). He was the director-general of Civil Aviation and fourth son of H.E. (Hazrat Sahib ul-Sa'ada) Ahmad Shafiq Pasha, the minister of the Khedivial Court of Egypt. They married in 1944 in Cairo, and divorced in 1960; he went on to a second marriage to Deloris Pianezzola, and died of cancer in 1976, in Tehran. They had two children, Captain H.H. Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahriar Mustapha Chafik (15 March 1945 – 7 December 1979), assassinated in Paris, [26] and H.H. Princess (Vala Gohari) Azadeh Pahlavi-Chafik (1951–2011). [27]

Third marriage

Pahlavi married a third and final time on 5 June 1960 (at the Iranian Embassy in Paris) to Mehdi Bushehri (1916–?), who was the Director of the Maison d'Iran (House of Iran), Paris. They had no children together, and were often separated while Pahlavi lived in exile in New York City [14] and Mehdi Bushehri remained in Paris. [28]

In a 1980 interview with The New York Times journalist Judy Klemesrud, Pahlavi stated, "I have never been a good mother. Because of my way of life, I was not with my children very much". [14]

Exile and death

Ashraf in 1970s Ashraf Pahlavi.jpg
Ashraf in 1970s

After the Revolution Princess Ashraf divided her time between Beekman Place [29] which she sold before moving to Park Avenue in New York City, Paris and in Juan-les-Pins, on the French Riviera. [1] [14]

Princess Ashraf Pahlavi died on 7 January 2016 in Monte Carlo at the age of 96. [1] She had suffered from Alzheimer's disease. [30] Her death was announced by her nephew and the imperial family's head, Reza Pahlavi on his Facebook page.

Robert F. Armao, an adviser, said the cause was "old age". Armao related that Princess Ashraf died in her sleep at home in Europe, but declined to name the country, citing concern for the safety of her family. [1]

Her funeral took place on 14 January 2016 in the Cimetière de Monaco in Monaco, attended by members of the Pahlavi family, including Empress Farah Pahlavi. [31]

At the time of her death, she was the oldest living member of her family. [3]


Ashraf Pahlavi wrote two books in English:

Additionally, she wrote one book in French:

Her three books were published following her 1980 The New York Times article "I Will Fight These Slanders". In accordance with her promise to fight the "slanders" about her and her family, her books are largely concerned with clearing up what she viewed as misconceptions about the Pahlavi dynasty. She again addresses the questions about her personal financial situation, writing in her most widely read book, her memoir Faces in a Mirror, "I had inherited about $300,000 when my father died (and about 1 million square meters of land near the Caspian Sea, as well as properties in Gorgan and Kermanshah, which would later become extremely valuable)" [13] In the introduction to this book, Pahlavi writes that she wants "very much to explain to Western readers what they have failed to understand about the nature of Iran's culture and heritage…about the nature of the so-called Islamic revolution", [21] Generally, her books are viewed as too autobiographical and steeped in emotion to be used as serious historical references: The Library Journal called Pahlavi's Faces in a Mirror, "little more than a personalized homily on the Pahlavis' virtues and the perfidy of nearly everyone else in the world." [32]

Before the 1979 revolution, Pahlavi translated several books from French into Persian, including books on nursing and child care. [24]

Titles, styles and honours

Styles of
Princess Ashraf Pahlavi of Iran
Imperial Coat of Arms of Iran.svg
Reference style Her Imperial Highness
Spoken styleYour Imperial Highness



National dynastic honours

Foreign honours

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Further reading

On her personal website, one can find biographical information about the Princess and her family, as well as information concerning her humanitarian efforts.
The Foundation for Iranian Studies is a non-profit institution dedicated to educating the public about Iran. Princess Ashraf served on the Board of Trustees.