Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister of Iran’s late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, passed away peacefully in her sleep at her home in Europe on Thursday. She was 96.
The announcement of her passing was posted to the Facebook page of the Shah’s son Reza Pahlavi. In his post, Reza described his aunt as having a heart full of love for Iran and being devoted to improving the social life of its citizens and specifically the advancement of women’s rights and the fight against illiteracy.
Ashraf’s book Faces in a Mirror was her personal account of how the 1979 revolution destroyed the lives of her fellow countrymen and women following its takeover by the radical theocratic regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She wrote the book in exile.
In addition to being a champion for women’s rights, Ashraf was credited with establishing Iran’s relationship with China and for serving as the head of the Iranian delegation to the United Nations for more than a decade.
Robert F. Armao, who has served as a senior advisor to the princess for almost 40 years, described her to the New York Times as “a very strong personality and a very strong feminist.” Armao is in the process of writing a book about the royal Pahlavi family.
To her supporters, the princess will be celebrated as a champion of women’s rights and an accomplished diplomat. However, her critics will continue to, by some accounts falsely, press her image as a power monger who played a pivotal role in the 1953 “military coup” that overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh over fears he was veering in favor of the Soviet Union and for nationalizing the nation’s oil.
The historical accuracy of the 1953 ousting of Mosaddegh having been a coup is questionable considering the Persian constitution stated that the Shah had the power to appoint and dismiss ministers. Oxford defines “coup” as “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.”
“Ashraf became the focal point, especially by many people on the left, of everything that was wrong and was made out to be some sort of maniacal witch,” Dr. Behzad Tabatabaei told Breitbart News. Dr. Tabatabaei, who is an Iran expert and an international business and political economist, explained that this was a far cry from the truth. “I’m not saying she was a saint by any measure. But she certainly was not the monster that people on the left or the religious zealotry have tried to portray her as. She was the sister of the Shah and had a lot of influence as a consequence of being part of the royal family.”
Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University Hamid Dabashi published a piece in Al Jazeera upon hearing of Ashraf’s passing in which he provides his personal perspective on where the ultimate fate of Ashraf’s image will rest.
As a princess, that is where Ashraf Pahlavi is headed: towards the pantheon of a nation’s collective memory, right next to Rudabeh, Farangis, Tahmineh, Gordafarid, or perhaps most appropriately Sudabeh. None of those characters are flat or banal – all are bold and multidimensional.
In Princess Ashraf’s death there is also a moral lesson for the ruling clergy in Iran or for the ruling dynasties anywhere else in the world.
No royal or presidential historian, no official obituary or hostile detractor will ever match the gentle creativity of a nation’s soul that plays with the soft clay of their rulers’ memory to fit them right where they belong – where they can humbly give back to their nation the best they had in them and then take back to their maker the worst of which they were capable.
Ashraf was born on October 26, 1919 to the late monarch Reza Shah. She is survived by her son, Prince Chahram Pahlavi, five grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren. Her daughter Azadeh Shafiq Pahlavi passed away in 2011. Ashraf’s other son, Shahriar Shafiq Pahlavi, was assassinated on a Paris street in 1979 by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Shahriar’s death haunted her until the final days of her life.