Princess Ashraf ul-Mulki Pahlavi (born 26 October 1919), is the twin sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran and the Pahlavi Dynasty. She currently resides Paris, France. Princess Ashraf is the oldest living member of her family. Since the Iranian Revolution, she has kept an extremely low profile and with the exception of a memoir published in the mid-1990s, has not made any public appearances or interviews since 1981.
Ashraf was a strong supporter of women's rights in Iran and the world during her brother's reign. In 1975, she was heavily involved with the International Women's Year, addressing the United Nations. Though an instrumental force in legitimating 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." By her own account, she was a strong supporter of the rights of women to basic life necessities such as “food, education, and health” and was not a radical reformist. She cited “chronic apathy” from many governments as the underlying issue that prevented women’s rights reforms from being implemented around the world. In 1934, Princess Ashraf and her sister, Princess Shams, were two of the first Iranian women to discard the veil typically worn by the women of their home country. Despite her involvement in 1975’s International Women’s Year, Pahlavi’s women’s rights stances were called into question after the publication of her 1976 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.
In her 1980 memoirs, Pahlavi acknowledges the poor condition of women in her home country 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.” Additionally, Pahlavi worked as an activist for human rights and equality, working not only for women’s rights. 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 of the International Consultative Liaison Committee for Literacy.
In 1967, Pahlavi worked with the United Nations as the Iranian delegate to the Commission on Human Rights as well as to the Economic and Social Council.
Ashraf was the target of a mysterious and unsuccessful assassination attempt in the summer of 1976 at her summer home on the French Riviera, during which fourteen bullets were fired into the side of her Rolls Royce. A passenger in her car was killed, but Pahlavi left the scene unharmed.
In the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Pahlavi dynasty came to an end when the monarchy under Ashraf’s brother Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Mohammad Reza Shah) was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini came into power as the leader of the new Islamic Republic of Iran.
Involvement in 1953 coup against Mossadegh
In 1953, Ashraf played an important role in Operation Ajax as she was the one who changed Mohammad Reza Shah's mind in giving the consent to CIA and SIS to start the operation. 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 change his mind. As historian Stephen Kinzer's book All the Shah's Men recounts, "Ashraf was enjoying life in French casinos and nightclubs when one of Roosevelt's best Iranian agents, Asadollah 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." By her own account, Pahlavi was offered a blank check if she agreed to return to Iran from her exile in France, but refused the money and returned on her own accord. Whether or not the allegations are true, some historians argue that the coup would have occurred with or without Ashraf’s influence over her brother: In an International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies article, writer Mark Gasironowski 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” and that the coup was instead largely executed by the United States and others looking to undermine Mossadegh’s leadership.
Character and finance
Ashraf by her own account was “attacked for financial misconduct” because she was engaged “in the administration of various organizations”. By her own account she was of limited financial means when Mossadegh sent her into exile in Paris. 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. 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, Ashraf and her son Shahram took 10 percent or more of a new company's stock gratis in return for insuring 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 for companies became a cost that had to be met.
In 1979, The New York Times reported that a September 17, 1978 document from Ashraf’s office requested a transfer of $708,000 from her Iranian bank account to her account at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Geneva under the code name ‘Sapia’. In 1980, Ashraf published an article in the New York Times, in which she came out in defense of her and her family’s financial situation. In the article, she writes that her wealth was not accumulated through “ill-gotten gains” and attributes her fortune to her inherited land, which “drastically increased in value with the development of Iran and the new prosperity that was there for all”. She notes that many other Iranians profited from the sale of their own real estate, but were not accused of financial misconduct because of their close ties to the clergy and Khomeini. She also defends her brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, stating that, contrary to the claims made by some Khomeini supporters, the former Shah did not profit from the Pahlavi Foundation. The Princess wrote that she planned to “fight these slanders with all my means and through whatever judicial means are available to me”.
Psychologically, Ashraf 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”. 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 respect 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
Her brother, the late 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”
Her first marriage (m. March 1937 - div. 1942) was with Mirza 'Ali Muhammed Khan Ghavam, Nasir ud-Daula (b. 1911). Ghavam was the Assistant Military Attaché at Washington DC in 1941 and the eldest son of H.H. Mirza Ibrahim Khan Ghavam, Qavam ul-Mulk. She has one son from her first husband:
H.H. Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahram Pahlavi-Nia (b. 18 April 1940, Tehran)
Her second marriage (m. 1944, Cairo (nikah) - div. 1959, Tehran (zifaf)) was with (Sahib ul-Izza) Ahmed Chafik Bey (b. 21 September 1911; m. second, Deloris Pianezzola, and died from cancer in 1976, in Tehran). 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 had one son and one daughter:
Captain H.H. Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahriar Mustapha Chafik (b. 15 March 1945, Maadi, Cairo - k. 7 December 1979, Paris, France). He was assassinated in Paris.
H.H. Princess (Vala Gohari) Azadeh Pahlavi-Chafik (b. 1951 - d. 2011)
Finally, she married thirdly at 5 June 1960 (at at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, France) with Dr. Mehdi Bushehri (b. 1916), who is the Director of the Maison d'Iran at Paris. They do not have children together.
In a 1980 interview with 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”. Additionally, while Pahlavi was living in exile in New York, her husband Mehdi Bushehri remained in Paris and the two rarely saw each other.