Reza Shah Pahlavi (Persian رضاشاه پهلوی, ), also written Rizā Shāh Pahlevi or more rarely Reza I, Reza Chah I or Pahlavi I, born in Alasht on March 15, 1878, and died in Johannesburg on July 26, 1944, was the emperor of Persia (Iran) from 1925 to 1941 and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. At different times, he is also known as Reza Pahlavan, Reza Savad-Koohi, Reza Khan, Reza Khan Mir-Panj, Reza (Khan) Sedar Sepah, Reza (Khan) Pahlavi, having been first a military man, head of the army, Minister of War and then Prime Minister before becoming emperor between 1925 and 1941.
A Cossack officer from a military lineage, he spent his childhood in relative poverty, born in the mountainous village of Alasht, in the Mazandaran. Orphaned of father at eight months and of mother at seven years, he is taken in by one of his uncles before joining the Cossack brigade. His great size and strength of character allowed him to climb the ladder of the military hierarchy. He led the 1921 coup d”état and became successively supreme commander of the armed forces and head of the government of the Persian Empire under the reign of Ahmed Shah, the last Qadjar ruler. The Constituent Assembly having voted the deposition of the young monarch on October 31, 1925, on December 12, 1925, Reza Khan was immediately elected and enthroned by the Parliament (Majles). Proclaimed Emperor (Chāhanchāh), he was crowned on 25 April 1926. Unlike the Qadjars, the new dynasty was not Turkish-speaking but Persian-speaking; it also had a markedly non-clannish character.
His reign, extremely secular and sovereignist, was marked by a large-scale modernization in his country, which was then in a state of “abysmal underdevelopment”, in the words of the British ambassador at the time Percy Cox, before the arrival in power of Reza Shah. However, it was a reign with two aspects: on the one hand, he modernized society in great strides to provide it with modern services, correct and then clearly good infrastructures, codes of law and society inspired by their European equivalents, with equality of the sexes, and the search for promotion of ancient Iranian culture; on the other hand, he imposed all these changes with firmness and sometimes authoritarianism, his attitude in particular towards the clergy and local traditions earning him some resentment among the population. He worked, for example, to abolish feudalism and a large part of Iranian tribalism, which upset and divided society and the peasant masses, and which – it is said – left a rather bad memory among Iranians. He was also responsible for changing the name “Persia” to “Iran” in 1935.
In 1941, Iran, suspected of pro-Germanism in the middle of World War II, was invaded by Allied troops, who occupied it for four years and deposed the old emperor. His son Mohammad Reza succeeded him, while he was exiled by the British who sent him to Mauritius, then to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he died. His son who succeeded him was overthrown by the Iranian Revolution in 1979. His grandson is currently one of the leaders of the opposition to the Islamic Republic. Reza Shah”s record remains debated and rather difficult to evaluate because, unlike Mustapha Kemal (his model), his successor was overthrown by a revolution that led to the establishment of a theocratic regime in total contradiction with the main aspects of his reign. Today”s Iran, where information is fairly controlled, only gives an extremely negative image of him.
Youth (1878 – 1891)
Reza was born in Alasht, a small town near Savadkuh, in the highlands of Mazandaran, a mountainous province in northern Iran. He was the son of Abbas Ali (1818 – 1878), a soldier who fought in Herat (now in Afghanistan) in 1857, and Nouch Afarine, a Georgian Muslim whose family had been driven out of the Caucasus in 1828, after the Russo-Persian war of 1826-1828.
Reza”s grandfather, Morad ”Ali Khan, was a military man who served in the VII Savad Kouh Regiment of the army. He had three sons, also military: Abbas ”Ali Khan, Cheragh ”Ali Khan, and Fazl Allah Khan. Abbas ”Ali married many times, having between five and seven wives, and is credited with having about 32 children. However, the relationship between Reza Shah and his half-brothers and sisters is unknown (if it existed at all), even after his accession to power. Abbas Ali”s last wife was Nouche Afarine, whom he had met during a trip to Tehran.
Reza Savad-Koohi”s birthplace did not destine him for a great future: Alasht is an extremely miserable town, but Reza”s paternal family was, however, a family of landowners and military men. There was a very large gap between the notables of Alasht and those of Tehran. Donald Wilber, who wrote a biography of Reza Shah in the 1970s, describes the city as follows:
“Until recently, Alasht was as isolated as it was in the previous century. There were no telephone lines, no electricity, no motorable roads, although a narrow road that could be crossed by car appeared a few kilometers from the village. The struggle for life has always been important in Alasht: bitterly cold winters with heavy snowfalls are followed by dry summers, leading to a shortage of water for both humans and animals and for the irrigation of crops. The current pattern of life in the cold season was established long ago: about 14 of the population stay in the village, about 14 go down to the Caspian Sea in the hope of finding seasonal employment, and the rest spend most of the time away from the village. Marriages between close relatives are the “rule”, and most of the inhabitants have never traveled beyond the valley. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the village had fewer than a thousand inhabitants.”
Forty days after the birth of the future Reza Shah, chased away by her in-laws who did not want a foreigner, Nouch Afarine left Alasht for Tehran with her son. In the company of her brother Hossein, she undertakes the crossing of the Elbourz massif to join her husband Abbas Ali, seriously ill, and her elder brother Hakim Ali.
A legend about this was born later, during the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty: while Nouche Afarine was crossing the mountain with her child, the latter, as an infant, fell ill and almost died (from cold). His mother stopped at Hashem”s emamzadeh (a kind of mausoleum reserved for a descendant of the Prophet), where the child was treated and miraculously recovered, which was considered a sign of fate.
Reza was only eight months old when his father died, and seven when his mother died. His uncle, Hakim Ali, a physician-captain assigned to the service of Kazem Khan, military governor of Tehran, immediately took charge of his education and ensured him a decent life on the material level, even comfortable according to the criteria of Persia at the time.
Military career (1891 – 1921)
In 1891, following in his father”s footsteps, Reza embarked on a military career: he joined the Persian Cossack brigade at the age of 15, the only national institution deemed effective and commanding respect in 1893-94. It is then very difficult to know, even by searching the administrative documents, what Reza did between 1894 and 1911. A few writers indicate that he was on guard duty in front of the German, Belgian, or Dutch embassies, or in front of the home of Prince Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma, but these writings are questionable, as most were written after the advent of the Islamic Republic. “At that time, the “Persian army” in general was, like the rest of the country, in a state of advanced disorganization: corruption reigned, the soldiers equipped themselves, they were sometimes provided with a horse. The Cossack brigade is the only more or less organized and disciplined corps, and this is probably why Reza chose to join it. It is said that Reza was offended that this theoretically Iranian army was commanded by Russian officers and that Russian was spoken in it.
Unlike Mustapha Kemal, his future political role model with whom he was to have a good relationship, Reza was relatively uneducated. He did not master any lingua franca or diplomatic language (Mustapha Kemal spoke French). Contrary to what British propaganda claimed in the 1920s, Reza was semi-literate and learned to write very late. Although he knew some rudimentary Turkish (which would come in handy in 1934), he was not really cultured, but he had another asset: he was remarkable for his appearance, his authority and his military qualities, which made him an example of bravery and determination. It was these qualities that allowed him to quickly climb the military ranks.
It is the same prince whose guard he would have been, Farman Farma, who, in 1911, made him fight in the uprisings of the end of the Constitutional Revolution, in the unsuccessful attempts of Mohammad Ali Qâdjar to recover his throne. Nevertheless, the prince raised him to the rank of lieutenant in 1911, before he reached the equivalent rank of captain in 1912. He was a tall man, about 1.90 m tall, a real force of nature, also very knowledgeable in the use of machine guns, which he took care of in 1915. These machine guns are Maxims, and Reza, who has no real name or official surname (see
According to the advice of General Ironside, the British officer in charge of the reorganization of the Cossack brigade by the Tehran government, he became the first Persian officer to command this armed corps in replacement of the Russians. In 1920, the previous commander, General Vsevolod Starosselski, had left Persia, as had a good part of the Russian officers of the Cossack brigade, to go and fight the Reds on the side of the Whites in the Russian civil war (1918-1924). Seeking support in Persia at the time (see below), the British tried to appoint an Anglophile officer to lead the Brigade, but they gave up in the face of Reza”s popularity and the hostility of the troops to this possibility. Reza Khan thus became the commander of the brigade.
The march to power (1921 – 1925)
Taking advantage of a confused and completely disordered situation, he undertook a coup d”état on the night of 20-21 February 1921. He entered Tehran with about 2,000 men and without bloodshed. He was appointed Sardar Sepah (“chief of the army”) by Ahmad Shah. He quickly became the strong man of the country and devoted himself to reforming the army, order and security. He also gave a new impetus to Iranian nationalism.
In October 1923, Ahmad Shah appointed him Prime Minister before his departure for Europe for health reasons.
The British, since the nineteenth century, had kept Persia in a very bad state, with some help from the Russians who had been nibbling away at Persian territories throughout the last century, including those in the Caucasus where Reza”s mother”s family and his wife Taj ol-Molouk”s family came from. Persia served for both powers as a buffer state between the Indian and Russian Empires – not to mention the established zones of influence, preventing the allies from coming into conflict over border issues. But the Russian revolution, and then the uncertainty that the Whites could win the civil war (which finally ended in 1924 and was won by the Reds) pushed the government in London to act: Bolshevik Russia represented a danger for the British Raj, as it was likely to absorb frail Persia and reach directly to the Indian borders, an action which would have many consequences. The United Kingdom then tried to establish itself in Persia. Through the Anglo-Persian treaty of 1919, it wished to establish a buffer zone over the parts of the Persian Empire touching Russia, and to impose a de facto protectorate on the Persians, officially and strongly interfering in their internal affairs. Consputed by the Persian opinion, the treaty was signed reluctantly by Ahmad Shah, but the Parliament refused to ratify the treaty.
Faced with this failure, London set up another strategy: to impose by force at the head of the government a man who would be devoted to them and who would allow them to act indirectly. The choice fell on an ambitious journalist, Seyyed Zia”eddin Tabatabai (but he lacked an “armed arm”. The British then thought of the new head of the Cossack brigade, Reza Khan, the first Persian in a very long time to succeed in taking over an organization in his country, even if it was military.
Reza saw this as his chance: didn”t his role in the coup bring him very close to power, and who knows, maybe even closer? He did not, however, endorse either the 1919 treaty or the British plot: he always blamed the British (and the Russians, to a lesser extent) for the downfall of his country. However, he let everyone, including the British spy Ardeshir Reporter and especially Tabatabai (and, according to some versions, people like the Bahai freemason Ayn ol-Molk Hoveyda, who discovered him), believe that they could count on him.
With all those who were devoted to him (a large part of the brigade), he took control of the capital on the night of 20-21 February 1921. The next day, in all the public buildings of Tehran, the following proclamation, known as “I order…”, was posted on the walls :
“I order: All residents of Tehran are required to remain calm and obey the orders of the military. A state of siege is declared. After eight o”clock in the evening, except for the military and the police, no one is allowed to leave their homes and walk in the streets. The publication of all newspapers and other printed materials is suspended until a new government is formed. Any gathering in homes and other places is forbidden. In the streets and public places, any gathering of more than three people will be dispersed by the police. Alcoholic beverages outlets, theaters, cinemas, gambling places, will be closed until further notice. Any person caught in a state of inebriation will be brought before the military justice. Until a new government is formed, public administrations, including the post office and telegraph, will be closed. Only the administration that ensures the distribution of food remains authorized to function. Anyone who violates these provisions will be brought before the military courts and severely punished.Commander of His Majesty”s Cossack Division and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,Reza “
In addition to the somewhat grandiloquent character of the text (“the armed forces” are not much), one notices that this proclamation was signed exclusively by Reza Khan, as if he were the only man in the coup.
Seyyed Zia”eddin Tabatabai became Prime Minister, Reza does not receive an important post, expecting however to become Minister of War. But Tabatabai appointed instead Colonel Massoud Keyhân (fa). However, Ahmad Shah, on March 1, 1921, appointed him Generalissimo (Sedar Sepah), and this without the opinion of Sayed Zia. Soon, the battle was engaged between the two, or rather the three men: Sayed Zia and Reza Khan, who had set up the coup together, disputed the direction of affairs, acting without each other, Sayed Zia having largely the upper hand, and Ahmad Shah trying to use the latter to weaken the power of the former. Sayed Zia greatly inconvenienced the Court, governing by decree-laws without reference to the Shah and even dismissing court figures linked to the British Crown such as Prince Nosrat-od-Dowleh Firouz Mirza.
The British ambassador addressing Reza to obtain the release of the prince is rejected by the generalissimo. Reza later ordered the British embassy to stop interfering with the land in the area where a summer residence belonging to them was located, taking the necessary measures. London began to feel that he was not really the right man to take over the country, but Tabatabai kept the support of the British power. The latter even dissolved the Parliament and from then on did not depend on anyone for the conduct of business.
Ahmad Shah, who resented his Prime Minister for the February coup d”état, could not stand his cavalier manner, nor his way of commanding the country, and sought revenge. Faced with the rise in power of Reza, who secured the capital and the surrounding area, Sayed Zia thought of appointing him Minister of War to the exclusion of any other post. Ahmad Shah accepted and the government was reshuffled on 22 April 1921. Reza Khan became Minister of War, and remained Generalissimo. Ahmad Shah could now get rid of Sayed Zia with the support of Reza. Without a parliament, the government had a free hand, but the emperor could change prime ministers at any time – a tactic that Mohammad Reza Shah, Reza Khan”s son, used to combat the influence of Mohammad Mossadegh on 15 August 1953.
On May 25 (he reacted sharply, and Ahmad Chah called Reza and some officers who were in the next room as reinforcements. Firmly, but without unnecessary violence, Seyyed Zia”eddin Tabatabai was taken to the Iraqi borders, from where he left for Europe and then Palestine, where he remained until 1942, when he returned to Iran.
After the removal of Seyyed Zia, Ahmad Shah became suspicious of his Minister of War. Rather than entrusting him with the reins of government, he left him as minister and appointed Mirza Ahmad Ghavam, known as Ghavam os-Saltaneh (which means “the strength of power”) as Prime Minister. Ghavam and Reza Khan, although they lived together for a long time, never really liked each other and even hated each other. Ghavam had opposed Tabatabai, who had sent him to prison, where he was when he became Prime Minister. When he was released, he ushered in a period of great progress for the country. In addition, the Parliament is back in office after elections, parliamentary democracy is restored, and several cabinets will succeed one another for two years.
Ghavam remained prime minister until September 30, 1921, when he was replaced by Hassan Pirnia, but returned to power from June 22, 1922 to February 14, 1923. Hassan Mostofi became head of government in his turn, and Hassan Pirnia returned to power on 14 June 1923.
The Ghavam governments and their successors undertook the modernization policy that the country had been dreaming of since 1906. In 1921, a faculty of agronomy was created, with French teachers. The teaching staff being non-existent in Iran, it is recruited for the moment outside the country. Then, the government created a National Office for the registration of real estate transactions. This was the first time that an institution under religious control was called into question – it would not be the last. Finally, the Pirnia government founded the Red Lion and Sun and the Pasteur Institute in Tehran.
From the moment he became Sedar Sepah, Reza, a man who knew the capital, wanted more than anything to secure it (at least), the city being then unsafe: at night, raids by brigands took place, while other gangs enforced their law; the streets were not lit, except by lamps in the streets around the royal palace. Even before he became generalissimo, he surrounded himself with the existing military divisions and the small gendarmerie of the country, carrying out his plan: his Cossack lieutenants and others often disappeared for a while, unofficially charged with getting rid of these forms of counter-power around the capital. In three months, the capital became safer, even at night, and the population considered him a real authority figure, more than Sayed Zia, then Prime Minister.
He took out a loan of five million dollars in the United States to finance the reorganization and re-equipment of the army.
After the removal of Seyyed Zia, Reza remained Generalissimo and Minister of War. He led several victorious campaigns against the rebel or independence leaders of the territory and gained authority and strength, especially during the crushing of the socialist republic of Gilan, the end result of the Gilan constitutionalist movement: the movement (1914-1921), considered at the base as an extension of the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1906, led to this republic, created with the help of the Bolsheviks. Its founder, Mirza Kuchak Khan, saw his relations with the Bolsheviks deteriorate and his republic, with little support from the population, disappeared. Reza Khan Sedar Sepah led the struggle against the remnants of the government dispersed in the jungle at the end of 1921 and emerged victorious.
Reza is also working to increase his authority – officially, that of the state – in the Kurdish region. He was charged with re-establishing the authority of the central government in Gilan, on the Caspian Sea. In 1918, Simko Shikak, a feudalist and above all a Kurdish leader and separatist, assassinated the Christian patriarch Simon XIX Benjamin and took a large part in the Assyrian genocide towards the end of the First World War, establishing his authority over the region west of Lake Ummia. It then extended its territory to the cities of Mahabad, Khoy, Miandoab, Maku and Piranshahr. If the government of the time sought an agreement, the government of Ghavam sent the army directly to restore the authority. The army is Reza. After a struggle of a few months, the revolt of Simko Shikak was crushed in the region of Salmas, towards Sari Taj in 1922. Shikak, after having tried in vain another uprising in 1926 (he will be abandoned by half of his army), is killed in 1930 in an ambush by the one he had agreed to meet, general Moghaddam – which, ironically, resembles the way Shikak had trapped and then killed Simon XIX Benjamin. Reza is said to have distrusted and even disliked the Kurds from this episode, and to have dispossessed them of their lands, persecuting them until his abdication, twenty years later.
He also matched an uprising in Persian Baluchistan, but also in the Azerbaijani and Armenian regions.
On October 28, 1923, Reza was called to the highest offices, replacing Hassan Pirnia, by the Majiles, the lower house of Persian institutions. On November 5, 1923, Ahmad Shah left the country for Nice, France, because of health concerns, it was said. In fact, Reza Khan rather forced his hand. The ruler never returned to his country, leaving effective power to Reza. Since Nice, although unpopular, he tried to influence Persian political life, advocating to distrust Reza – although reappointing him several times as Prime Minister.
The foundation of a modern state is underway. Reza sought to continue on the path of national sovereignty, but at a faster pace. Soon after his appointment as head of government, he passed a law on sugar and tea: imports were regulated – Iran had resources for both commodities – and mining was tightly controlled. The state placed the latter under the authority of an Institute of Mining.
Similarly, Reza will build a railway line inspired by the Trans-Siberian, the Transiranian. Since the beginning of the century, the Russian Empire had thought of establishing a railway line connecting the Russian and Indian borders. But despite the creation of an Anglo-Iranian Railway Consortium in 1910, the construction was interrupted during the First World War; only the sections connecting Tehran to Astara and Tehran to Enzeli were built. Now that the Russians had left and the construction of the railroad line was handed over to the nation, the construction could continue and Reza wanted to go further: he negotiated with the American company Ulen the construction of a more extensive line from Muhammareh (today Khorramshahr) to the Caspian Sea.
However, nothing will be built before his accession to the throne.
Reza Khan remained minister of war and commander of the army and continued to pursue the modernization of the army. Having his hands even freer than before, he wished to make it a real means of defense against a possible invasion, and a means to ensure the stability of the country. He entrusted the reorganization of the army to a Qadjar prince, Aminollah Djahanbani, who had studied at the military academies of imperial Russia. As for the training of military leaders, they were sent to France, in military schools such as Saint-Cyr, Saumur, Fontainebleau. During a long part of his reign, officers will continue to be trained in foreign military schools; French, then European, but never a single officer in the making will be sent to the United Kingdom. At this time, too, a small aviation industry was developing in Iran. During the Sheikh Khazal affair, Reza had an air brigade of three aircraft.
In May 1924, conscription was established, with compulsory military service of two years. This reform aimed particularly at smoothing out the great social differences that existed between the population and, by extension, between the military. It was a success, and in the same style, a school reform instituted the introduction of uniforms for children; it also aimed to create a cultural and societal mix, while soliciting only Iranian companies to make the uniforms.
Reza also introduced the compulsory use of the family name – a law of the Pirnia cabinet, which until then had been the preserve of aristocratic families only. The law to establish an official surname (family name + first name) came into force in 1925. Reza had to set an example, like most politicians. But what official name would he choose? When he was born, he was first named Reza Savad-koohi (سوادکوهي) after his home region of Savadkuh (en). Later, when he became an officer in the Persian army, the appellation corresponding to the rank was attached to his name and so he became Reza Khan (خان), then with his progression in rank, Reza Khan mirpanj (خان میرپنج). As minister of defense, he was known as Reza Khan Sardâr Sepâh (سردار سپاه). So which one to adopt? Khan? It was more of a nickname, like Sedar Sepah. Savad-koohi? Pahlavan? He eventually chose the name Pahlavi (پهلوی), borne by his descendants ever since. This patronymic, if it recalls his father”s clan – Pahlavan -, is a direct reference to the pre-Islamic identity of Persia; Pahlavi, or Pehlevi, being an Indo-European language spoken in Iran between the third and tenth centuries and on the other hand, it refers to an ancient language, Middle Persian, and on the other hand means “heroic, glorious, archaic”. Already, the search for a future direction of affairs when he will concentrate (even) more power in his hands, a return to the sources of the great Persian civilization, without the contributions due to the Islamization of Persia in the 7th century. In civil status, he will always keep this patronymic, even when he became emperor – he will only add the numerical Shah (شاه) -, which is still today that of his descendants.
Sheikh Kazhal Khan al-Kaabi, a powerful potentate of the province of Khûzistân, signed a de facto protectorate treaty with the British around 1923, reigning in an area that was hardly subject to imperial power. This treaty, in front of which Tehran is powerless, gives him a kind of power that will go to his head: in 1924 he takes the head of a force of 30,000 men, with a powerful tribal cavalry and some artillery, allied to the Bakhtiary tribes, in revolt against the central power. Reza, who thought he had finished with the separatists, took the lead in the punitive expedition, assisted by the youngest general in the army, Fazlollah Zahedi. The British, who saw a protectorate treaty – albeit illegal – as a way of protecting the borders of neighbouring Iraq and securing their oil territories, protested, in the form of their minister plenipotentiary in Iran, Sir Percy Loraine. But Reza Khan Pahlavi and General Zahedi triumphed over the sheikh”s troops on November 1, 1924. On November 19, the potentate sent a sort of apology telegram and wanted to be forgotten, but Reza, inflexible, ordered him to go to the capital before any negotiation. Kazhal, taking fear, fled by boat and stationed in the international waters of the Persian Gulf, near the Iraqi and Persian borders.
Reza, who did not give up, sent Zahedi to capture the sheikh, a commando operation which succeeded. If his protectorate treaty was broken, so as not to offend the British who appreciated Reza Pahlavi less and less, Sheikh Kazhal was installed in a comfortable house in the heights of Tehran, and his separatist ambitions disappeared as soon as he recovered his fortune.
Birth of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925 – 1926)
Reza Shah, impressed by Atatürk”s modernist reforms in Turkey, thought for a while of establishing a presidential system, an idea not well received in religious and traditional circles.
On 31 October 1925, in the absence of Ahmad Shah Qajar, and at a time when the country needed the restoration of a central authority and a strong government, the majles (the Persian parliament) approved by a large majority the deposition of the Qajar dynasty. On December 12, the following year, the Parliament voted for the change of dynasty. Reza Khan became emperor of Persia under the name of Reza Shah Pahlavi on December 15, 1925, before being crowned on April 25, 1926.
Since the sheikh”s affair, the official arrival of Reza in power, who already holds all the cards, is only a matter of time. Only Ghavam, who could have opposed his ascension, was involved in a dark story of attempted assassination – “strangely” at the right time – and was sent into exile, after the intervention of Ahmad Chah, who stopped the bullying that the Pahlavi government was inflicting on the former Prime Minister; Ahmad Chah himself, as well as the rest of his family – Crown Prince Mohammad Hassan Mirza, above all – did not represent any real danger to Reza Pahlavi. Already an admirer of Mustapha Kemal, he thought of establishing a republic; but the clergy, not very keen on this idea, came to suggest that he should rather “take the crown”: an idea that seduced the former Cossack officer, when one knows what happened next.
At this time, Reza”s supporters and detractors clashed in the streets, with his supporters dividing into those who favoured the republic and those who favoured the establishment of a new dynasty. In a proclamation on 4 April 1925, the Prime Minister asked them to stop tearing each other apart, explaining that the development of the country was what was important.
Similarly, in parliament, the question of the form of the regime, should he come to power – which is imminent – is debated. However, some people are opposed to a pure and simple accession of Reza Pahlavi to the head of state. Among them, Mohammad Mossadegh, tribune and parliamentarian:
“Reza Khan is governing the country very well, so he must continue to do so. For this, he must remain Prime Minister. If he becomes king, and if he respects the principle of democratic, constitutional monarchy, he will not have to govern, and that would be a pity. On the other hand, if he decides to govern as king, he will become by definition a dictator, and we did not fight for democracy to have a dictator king again.
After Reza”s accession to power, Mossadegh remained in parliament, leading an opposition group in the early years. In spite of everything, he always had good relations with Reza Shah, who even offered him several positions several times; an idea that other sources deny.
Three days after his request, on 7 April 1925, Reza Pahlavi handed in his resignation to Hassan Pirnia, then president of the Majilis. He said that he was tired of the plots, intrigues and other petty games that made political life so boring, and informed the members of parliament and ministers that he was going to make a pilgrimage to the mausoleum of Imam Hussein in Karbala, a high place of Shi”ism, before leaving the country to settle abroad.
While Reza left for Iraq the same day from Nice, Ahmad Shah, seeing the opportunity to get rid of this “new Tabatabai”, hastened to appoint a Prime Minister – Hassan Mostofi – and a government. But the monarch exceeded his rights twice: he appointed a Prime Minister while Parliament was in session, and without referring to anyone, and he appointed ministers without the advice of the Prime Minister himself. The government that was formed – or rather appointed, as well as the parliamentarians, rushed to the Iraqi borders to meet Reza, who was returning from his pilgrimage to Karbala. They all ask him to form the government again. This is the only way to make a difference in the lives of the people.
The episode of Reza”s resignation seems to have been a political ruse: he knew that many would consider him indispensable. And it also discredited (a little more) the Qajar dynasty – which was perhaps the goal: Ahmad Shah”s orders were not listened to, hardly made public. Moreover, it was a man far from the country and its realities who spoke, and he adopted a different tactic, knowing he was powerless: he congratulated Reza, worried about his health… The latter, who knows that he has already won, continues to adopt a facade of reverence towards the one who is still the emperor – but not for long.
On 28 October 1925, still in the absence of Ahmad Shah Qajar, the Majilis passed a law proclaiming the fall of the Qadjar dynasty, following a joint request from many political and social leaders in Parliament. Reza Pahlavi was given the title of “Serene Highness”, and presided over a kind of provisional government. On 6 December, the Majilis considered a constitutional revision, because by deposing the Qajars, it violated Articles 36 and 38 of the 1906 constitution, which stipulated that the crown of Persia could only belong to Mozaffar el-Din Shah (who had ratified the constitution) or his successors, who were born of Persian mothers.
On 12 December 1925, the parliament voted for the advent of a new dynasty: the Pahlavi replaced the Qadjar. Of the whole assembly, despite some abstention, only 5 people voted against, among them Mossadegh, Mohammad Taghi Bahar, Hassan Modarres and Hassan Tagizadeh. The crown was given to “His Majesty Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Persia”. The new articles 36 and 38 state that the constitutional monarchy is embodied in Reza Pahlavi, his descendants and direct heirs, and that in the event that the monarch is no longer able to reign, his heir will replace him. The heir must be his biological son, and the mother of the heir must be a Persian woman, and – a novelty – not related to the old Qadjar dynasty.
After taking the oath to the Constitution on December 15, 1925, Reza Khan became Emperor of Persia under the name of Reza Chah Pahlavi.
“I take as witness the Almighty and Most High God, on the glorious word of God, and by all that is most honored in the eyes of God, I swear to exercise all my power to preserve the independence of Persia, to protect the borders of my Kingdom and the rights of my People, to observe the fundamental Laws of the Persian Constitution, to rule in accordance with the established laws of Sovereignty ; to strive to promote the Ja”fari doctrine of the Church of the Twelve Imams while considering in my actions God the most glorious as present and watching me. I still ask for the help of God, from whom all will emanates, and ask for the help of the holy spirits of the saints of Islam to participate in the flourishing of Persia.”
On 16 December, bodies of political leaders came to pledge allegiance to him. On 19 December, Reza called Mohammad Ali Fouroughi to form his first government as emperor. Finally, on January 28, 1926, his son Mohammad Reza was proclaimed “Imperial Highness, Crown Prince of the Peacock Throne,
For the establishment of this new dynasty, new symbols are put in place. The Ministry of the Court, whose master was recently Abdol-Hossein Teymourtash, placed an order with a jeweler Haj Seraj ol-Din for the creation of a new crown, which could replace the Kiani crown used by the Qadjar.
The design of the new crown, called the Pahlavi Crown, was inspired by the reliefs representing the Sassanid crowns (224 – 651). It features 3,380 diamonds, totaling 1,144 carats, with a 60-carat yellow brilliant-cut diamond in the center of a sunburst composition. It weighs 2.08 kg.
The new coat of arms is almost the same as that of the Qajar dynasty: a lion-and-sun surrounded by oak and laurel; only the Kiani crown on top is replaced by the Pahlavi crown. Later on, a new imperial coat of arms was created, representing two lions surrounding a sun with Mount Damavand underneath, with the Pahlavi motto “Mara dad farmud va Khod Davar Ast (He gave me the power to command, and He is the only judge)”, all of which was topped by the Pahlavi crown.
Reza Shah was crowned on 25 April 1926. The ceremony was quite lavish, almost modelled on that of the Qadjars:
After an urban procession, where Reza is paraded in a carriage stamped with the new imperial coat of arms, the procession arrives at the Golestan Palace, the former official residence of the Qajars, mostly used for ceremonies. Reza goes to the gardens, where he sits on the Marble Throne, where he is filmed, and then the procession follows him to the Grand Gallery of the Palace, where he sits on the Naderi Throne, created by Fath Ali Shah. He is presented with several swords, and he girds the one of Nader Shah. Then he put on a coat with embroidery evoking ancient Persian motifs and finally girded the heavy and brand new Pahlavi Crown. Occasionally, some foreign media referred to the new emperor as “Pahlavi I”.
Reign and modernization of Iran (1925 – 1941)
During his reign, Persia accelerated its modernization: universities were founded, railroads were built and massive industrialization took place. He upset the established social order by accelerating reforms and trying to bring Persia (Iran) into the 20th century. He founded the country”s first modern university, the University of Tehran (1934), introduced the use of family names and civil registration, modernized the judiciary and the army, and undertook a major effort to modernize the educational system. In 1935, he banned the wearing of the veil for women and forced men to dress “in the Western style”.
As soon as he ascended the throne, Reza Khan became Reza Shah and set about improving the standard of living of the population. And in order to do so, people had to live, to be less prey to what was decimating them; in the provinces, in particular, many diseases, such as malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery, rickets, leprosy, leishmaniasis, typhoid fever, trachoma, ringworm, and other skin diseases and sexually transmitted diseases were taking their toll. Since 1828, there have been medical schools, but their impact has been too small. In order to fight more extensively against these diseases, on February 3, 1927, the government of Hassan Mostofi, who succeeded Mohammad Ali Fouroughi on June 13, 1926, promulgated a law establishing a National Department of Health Facilities to facilitate access to health care for the population. If the establishment of medical facilities (especially hospitals) proved difficult in the provinces, diseases would cease to wreak such havoc, and malaria, the most prevalent, would be completely eradicated.
Then Reza Shah abolished the capitulations. The Mostofi government abolished these provisions due to the treaty of Turkmanchai (1828), which had been signed after the defeat of Persia in the Russo-Persian war of 1828. They implied that the Russians present on the Persian territory had a social, judicial and especially economic immunity. The latter were in fact in charge of the Persian economy, and this was still the case (despite the disappearance of the Russian empire) in December 1925, when Reza became emperor. They were officially abolished in 1927 as Reza Shah saw new projects for the national economy.
The new regime wanted to be affiliated with its ancient and glorious heritage: the ancient Persia of Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes… The first link with the millennial heritage of Persia with that of Reza Shah took place in 1925: the establishment of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian calendar, or rather its restoration; the calendar saw its names forgotten and changed by Turkish and Arabic words; the original name returned. The principle used is however the one defined by the poet, mathematician and philosopher Omar Khayyam in the 11th century: by measuring the year, he deduced that it “measured” exactly 365.24219858156 days, which makes the calendar very precise and confirms before time the future Gregorian reform (at the time of Omar Khayyam, in 1094). It has sometimes been claimed that this reform, although imposed by decree, would have been inspired by Keikhosrow Shahrokh (en), member of parliament and leader of the Iranian Zoroastrian community.
Work on the Transiranian continues. The country can now think big, especially during the 1930s, when the emergence of an economic market, a drastic increase in modern industries, an increase in exports and an increase in agricultural production transforms the society and especially its economy. On February 9, 1926, the Majlis voted by a majority to extend the circuit. Some people were opposed to it, notably Mossadegh, who spoke of “betrayal of the country”: he thought that the British would thus have more access to the country”s resources in order to plunder it by using the railway network; he was not the only one. European engineers were asked to imagine and realize the project. Reza is particularly keen on it and the project, once finalized, will be his pride, even “his life”s work”: it will last a long time, more than twelve years.
Twelve years during which the critics appear: they are afraid that the project will finally cost too much and will be abandoned, among the engineers, there are Americans, some of whom think that other means of transport will be preferable and less expensive, like the U.S. Army”s Motor Transport Service… the British also find a lot to criticize: at the beginning of the project, the question is quickly decided by the emperor to know if the Trans-Iranian Railway will be from North to South or from East to West. North to south was chosen, which was less expensive. The British would have preferred the other option: an east-west Trans-Iranian, which was planned and construction finally started in 1938, would have allowed the British to link the colonies of the British Raj to the Protectorate of Mesopotamia (later the Kingdom of Iraq), a link that the British lacked during the First World War.
Incidents could have turned the project short: Reza Shah visited the construction site several times, and travelled the laid lines from his special carriage, the first time in 1929. On January 10, 1930, he visited a new section of the northern section, but his train derailed due to excessive rainfall. He took another car which, almost at its destination, also derailed for the same reason. Although the king escaped unharmed, the bad weather continued and the roads were impassable: he remained stuck in Ahwaz, where he was, until January 25, 1930.
On August 26, 1938, 1,394 kilometers of railroad were inaugurated, linking the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The network has 90 stations, the Tehran station being built by Germans, who have at the time an important partnership with Germany. More than 251 bridges (of which the most emblematic is the Veresk bridge), 245 tunnels, 4000 smaller bridges have been built. More than 55,000 workers have been employed on the Trans-Iranian Railway. More than 20 million cubic meters of earth and 4,000 kilos of dynamite were used, more than 2,000,000 cubic meters of natural stones and building stones and more than 500 tons of cement were used. In addition, the road has 46 large stations, with passenger lounges, workshops for repairing locomotives, wagons and water tanks and electricity generators that were built.
The great pride (and novelty) of the project is that it cost £17.5 million, a huge sum, but without recourse to any foreign credit; there was, however, an increase in taxes on sugar and coffee. The site employed many men, most of them Iranians, but the engineers and project managers were almost all foreigners. The project was supervised by a consortium, first German-American, then Danish-Swedish.
On October 30, 1938, the new Trans-Iranian Railway was started; it was to cross the country from west to east, linking Tabriz to Mashad. The works progressed but they were interrupted by the Second World War and the deposition of Reza Chah. They will be completed under Mohammad Reza Shah.
During World War II, the United Kingdom and the USSR invaded Iran and, after neutralizing Reza Shah, used the Trans-Iranian Railway to form the Persian Corridor, which was used to transport oil and various supplies to British and Soviet troops.
In 1925, Reza Shah had Bank Sepah created, which managed the pension funds of the military – Reza did not forget those of whom he had been a fellow student. But this was not really enough, as the British still had access to economic areas, as did the Russians before the abolition of the capitulations. So other measures had to be taken.
Reza sought to create a new bank: for this purpose, he sent Abdol-Hosein Teymourtash to Germany, with the mission to draw inspiration from German banks and their operating system to create a national bank. The National Bank of Iran was born in 1927.
The Imperial Bank of Persia, run by the British and a symbol of their interference in Iranian affairs, was replaced by Bank Melli Iran, staffed exclusively by Iranians. The main purpose of the bank was to facilitate the government”s financial transactions and to print and distribute Iranian currency (rial and toman). For over 33 years, Bank Melli Iran acted as the central bank of Iran with the responsibility of maintaining the value of the Iranian rial. In 1928, the issue of banknotes was nationalized, after compensation from the British, and its printing was entrusted to the National Bank. Then in 1928, the Banque Rahni was created, inspired by the Crédit Foncier Français, allowing the financing of housing.
The imposing building of the Imperial Bank of Persia in Tehran displays the characteristics of Pahlavi architecture: a facade with a central ayvān with its sides and spandrels covered with faience decoration. A number of branches of the Bānk-e Mellī had entire wall surfaces clad in mosaic faience of a quality equal to that of the highlights of Islamic architecture in Iran.
On March 1, 1932, the Mint (Zarrabkaneh) was established, allowing the country to mint its own metal money.
Reza, quickly, by his reforms and his work in general, inconvenience the clergy. The clergy, as in some societies such as the French Ancien Régime, has an important societal role: it educates, mostly through theological schools, it collects taxes to pay to the state, oversees all political events, takes care of charities, orphanages, and also has an important role in the respect of the law, dominated according to the Constitution of 1906 by the Sharia. Reza Shah believed that all this had to be reformed; to do this, he surrounded himself with a jurist, Ali Akbar Davar, trained in Switzerland, who would be Minister of Justice for about ten years.
Others to be affected by these innovations are the tribal and minority leaders: Reza Shah wants a centralized state, which is incompatible with a dilution of authority towards the tribes. Their rights will be abolished by the new central state, and Reza will send in the army when protests are heard. However, rather paranoid, Reza Shah will often think that everyone is plotting to weaken what he is building, which is not entirely untrue, and will often have tribal leaders arrested, especially the Kashkais and Bakhtiaris.
In 1925, Dāvar became minister of commerce in the Foroughi Cabinet, and a year later was appointed minister of judicial affairs in the Mostowfi ol-Mamalek Cabinet. In March 1926, with parliamentary approval, he dissolved the entire Iranian judiciary, initiating a wave of fundamental restructuring and reform reforms with the help of French judicial experts, as well as a strong clerical backlash that saw itself dispossessed. Dakvar will try to spare them (see below).
The modern judicial system of Iran -at that time still Persia- was born in April 1927 with 600 newly appointed judges in Tehran. Dāvar later attempted to expand the new system to other cities in Iran through a program that included the training of 250 judges per major city.
Among Dāvar”s many achievements was the establishment of Iran”s “Office of Social Affairs” (Edareh-ye Sabt-e Ahval), which introduced “The Law of Registration of Documentation” (Qanun-e Sabt-e Asnad)-e Sabt-e Amlak), and “The Law of Marriage and Divorce” (120 separate bills were ratified by the judicial committee of Majles. The most important was the Civil Code and, in addition, there were the Basic Law, the Penal Code, the Commercial Code and the Code of Religious Courts. On April 25, 1927, the new legal system was inaugurated in the presence of Reza Shah, who at the same time officially abolished the capitulations. Ali Akbar Davar also supervised the preparations for building the Persian Railway.
During the seven years he served as minister of justice, Dāvar founded new courts throughout Persia and selected appropriate judges, both from among those already serving and from qualified religious jurists (mojtaheds) and government employees. It was also he who organized the registration of documents and properties in the appropriate registers. Other achievements include the combination of ministerial schools of law and political science in the Higher School of Law and Political Science (Madrasa-ye”ālī-e ḥōqūq wa”olūm-e sīāsī) under the supervision of the Ministry of Education in 1927, and the organization of jurisprudence courses in the Ministry of Justice. Dāvar also formulated rules and regulations for the office of the defense attorney.
Davar”s suicide, on February 10, 1937, deeply saddened Reza Shah, who told his successors in the judiciary, “Do not think that now that you are in Davar”s chair, you are like him.
Reza also created the country”s first navy. If Amir Kabir, during the reign of Nader Shah, had tried to create it, his hasty assassination had nipped the project in the bud. Here, foreign support was needed: Fascist Italy was discreetly approached to see if a partnership could be signed, and that Iranian engineers could be sent to Italy for training. Mussolini, perhaps excited by the idea of countering the United Kingdom, thus threatened on the seas, which was his domain, in the region, accepted the project. Engineers were sent to Italy, and ten warships, including two cruisers, were ordered from the Kingdom of Italy.
Then, the air force also needed to be modernized; small arms and fighter aircraft factories were established near Tehran; most of them bore the Shahbaz “Eagle” emblem, and soon the air force expanded even more rapidly. The Imperial Persian Air Force (IPAF) was a branch of the Imperial Persian Armed Forces and was established by Reza Shah, then Sedar Sepah, in 1921. It became operational with its first fully trained pilots on February 25, 1925. Iran”s first attempt to obtain aircraft from the United States in the 1920s failed due to Washington”s refusal to provide equipment because of a World War I treaty. Until World War II, the IPAF”s aircraft inventory consisted entirely of European aircraft, primarily British and German.
Finally, the infantry was also modernized: by the end of the 1920s, the young officers sent to Europe at the beginning of the decade were back home, and likely to serve the new Imperial Persian Army. While equipment continued to be purchased from all over Europe, the military academy created a few years earlier had finished training the new soldiers of this army. To train officers from now on, Reza Shah called upon the French army: thirty officers were asked to train officers – a rank in the army would be granted to them, for services rendered.
One of Reza”s main concerns was also to educate his successor. His eldest son, Mohammad Reza, was 6 years old when he was proclaimed crown prince on 28 January 1926. The new emperor hoped for a perfect education for his son, that he would have a solid educational foundation, that he would be aware of all the turns of the protocol, while being – a paternal and even cognatic mark – “military by profession”. The young prince was taught Persian, advanced learning of writing, history, geography, civics, and French… a foreign language at the time but also a court language.
In 1931, at the age of 11-12, the prince finished his primary education. From then on, his father wanted to send him to the West to further his secondary education. The court thought of Eton, a very famous college, but it had the defect of being located in the United Kingdom. Reza still hates the British and, even though relations at the time are rather calm, he still distrusts the government in London. Or a French Catholic college near Toulouse, France, but Reza, like his son, is not only Shiite Muslim, but also non-practicing, and would prefer something secular. The Court – probably Teymourtash – found the solution: a Swiss college, Le Rosey, near Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland. Founded by the Belgian Paul Carnal in 1880, attended by the children of the court, it was reputed to be open and welcoming, in a neutral country that had – and never had – any disputes with Persia. The choice was therefore made: the prince would go to study at the Rosey; to avoid too many sad tears, he would not go alone: his younger brother Ali-Reza, his friend Hossein Fardoust, and the son of the minister of the Teymourtash court, Mehrpour.
In September 1931, the small group, assisted by two tutors, two remarkable men of letters, embarked at the Pahlavi port of Anzali, on their way to Baku, in the USSR. Queen Tadj ol-Molouk, her daughters – and sisters of the Crown Prince – Ashraf and Chams came to say goodbye. The procession was escorted by the Minister of the Court, Mehrpour”s father, Abdol-Hossein, during the whole journey: they arrived in Baku, Taj ol-Molouk”s native city, and crossed the USSR in a special carriage, then Poland and Germany, before arriving in Switzerland and Geneva.
The construction of all the country”s infrastructure is already a real undertaking. But the industrialization of the country under Reza Shah has its own history. The industrialization efforts of the 1920s and 1930s focused primarily on establishing factories for consumer goods such as matches, glass, textiles, and sugar. There is a mass market for these in Iran; and, given their importance in Iran”s imports, these materials are also a natural choice for promotion as part of an import substitution policy. Moreover, these same industries had been the subject of more or less abortive attempts at economic diversification in the last years of the 19th century.
As with the state”s economic policy, industrial development evolved in two apparently different phases. In the first phase, which spanned the second half of the 1920s, progress was steady but slow, while the state relied on private sector promotion. In the second phase, especially in the period 1934-38, industrial growth accelerated significantly under the active direction of the state. It is estimated that in 1931 only 230 large and small modern industrial plants existed, of which 34 were cotton gins. At that time, only a handful of Iranian cities had electricity (Tehran, Bushehr, Tabriz, Anzali, and Rašt). Industrial development was even more limited, judged by the number of large establishments (employing ten or more workers).
The situation changed in the 1930s, especially after 1934, leading some observers to refer to this period as the “great leap forward.”
By the early 1930s, the state”s role in reviving or initiating industrial projects was well established. For example, in 1931 the Kahrizak sugar factory was rebuilt with 60 percent of its reconstruction and capital costs financed by the state. In early 1932, the Šāhi Spinning Mill was opened with two-fifths of its $120,000 capital provided by Reza Shah and another two-fifths from the National Bank
By the end of the 1930s, industry was the second largest recipient of public investment. Private investment in industry, on the other hand, was slow at first and only began in the second half of the 1930s. By 1941, industrial investment had reached a value of about £58 million, of which £28 million was provided by the government. The relatively high rate of capital accumulation during the 1930s was financed by domestic resources, with foreign contributions limited to technical assistance. The increase in government administrative expenditures and investment during this period was financed mainly by indirect taxes such as customs duties and road taxes, monopoly company profits and deficit financing.
However, at the turn of the 1930s, after 5 years of rule (9 de facto), historians generally agree to speak of an authoritarian turn in Reza Shah”s reign; the reforms continued and even accelerated, and this while the population started to be overwhelmed by the events. The people understood that there was no way to go back, that they had to take the train of (forced) modernization on the move. The population then splits into two parts: one part sticks to its guns, while the other follows the movement, either enthusiastic or having no choice. It is generally accepted that the refractory were the popular masses of the population.
In addition, there was the appearance of a veritable cult of personality, unavoidable in schools, supported by the militarization of the regime, stifling the little political maneuvering that existed. Also, there was the closure of independent newspapers and a tight control of political parties, most of them devoted to the imperial cause. Statues of and streets to Reza Shah sprang up all over the cities, and a real imperial iconography developed.
In May 1929, a strike broke out in Abadan, the nerve center of all types of oil refineries in the country. Initially small in scale, it became very important; the local and national authorities intervened: The strike ends “quickly,” but it seems that the Communist Party, which is not yet the Tudeh, led the protest. As a result, Reza Shah was convinced of a communist plot, and parties of communist persuasion were banned. The leaders (but not the followers) of these parties were prosecuted and imprisoned, without being physically eliminated, despite the good relations between the regime and the USSR. Indeed, if he respects it, the Persian emperor hates any interference of his powerful neighbor, considering the slightest communist movement as subservient to the Soviet Union. It is true that the pre-Tudeh communist party was founded in 1920 by the constitutionalist leaders of the Gilan republic.
According to some historians, Reza Shah, who had to get his country out of the chaos in which it was before 1921, succeeded remarkably quickly in making the country pass from chaos to submission, but this especially by relying on the army, which he also controlled in record time; and became the master of a subjugated country, he ruled as an absolute master, as a dictator, suppressing any form of dissent deemed dangerous or even those who might have overshadowed him, said historians using the term “arbitrary rule”, a kind of absolute autocracy that emanates entirely from one, similar to the despotic power of the Qajars before the Constitutionalist Revolution (1906) Under Reza Shah, arbitrary rule began in earnest in 1931.
Under Reza Shah, officially, the parliamentary system was always respected. The parliament was the Majles, while the Senate, provided for in the 1906 constitution, did not come into being until 1949. The Majlis proposes, discusses, votes and amends laws. However, soon those elected could only take office with the consent of the government – that is, Reza. This severely restricted the variety of speech of those present in the parliament. Until 1928, however, an opposition to Reza Shah, which was not necessarily systematic, was held in the Majlis, led by Mohammad Mossadegh and Hassan Modarres, who had voted against Reza”s accession to power (Hassan Taghizadeh, also an initial opponent, would however become Minister of Finance). If in the first years, it was mainly development projects that were voted, an opposition had not so much place, more political decisions (clothing reforms, foreign affairs…) arrive in the 1930s, and there, the Parliament has no more role, the one it would have liked to have.
The 1930s also coincided with the beginning of a political, and sometimes physical, suppression of opponents, the most famous example being Hassan Modarres: in the seventh Parliamentary Elections (since 1906) in August 1928, neither Mossadegh nor Modarres were re-elected – or allowed to take office. While Mossadegh retired from politics in 1929, Modarres continued to oppose Reza Shah. In the early 1930s, he was banned from Tehran and expelled to Khaf and then Khashmar, then killed – it seems – in prison (no source concerning him says when or for what official reason he was sent to prison) on 1 December 1937, probably at the instigation of the emperor.
Also, a more unfortunate mistake for him, some of Reza Shah”s collaborators disappear, linking or not Reza to their end: the first will be Abdol-Hossein Teymourtash. Trusted man of Reza Shah, his closest adviser and even his eminence grise, he was abruptly removed from the Ministry of the Court and thrown into prison in 1932, following an obscure involvement in the dispute of the empire with the concession of Arcy, where he died in 1933 in circumstances equally murky and varied according to sources. Other political unpleasantness occurred: the death of Ali Akbar Davar, on February 10, 1937, was due to several things: a heart attack according to the regime, an opium overdose according to others, suicide or simply political assassination according to others, Davar being the friend of Teymourtash and having seen his relations with Reza Shah deteriorate recently. A poorly elucidated death in which Reza might also have been involved. Similarly, the death of Keikhosrow Shahrokh in 1939 – a heart attack according to the press – is sometimes attributed to him, as is that of the Minister of War Sardar Fateh, a member of the Bakhtiaris tribe and father of Shapour Bakhtiar, executed in 1934. Sometimes there is even mention of Hassan Mostofi, who (also) died of a heart attack in 1932. According to the same sources, all the politicians who had the bad taste to die between 1925 and 1941 had been suppressed by order of Reza Shah, although it is suspected that they all had heart attacks.
In 1935, Reza Shah quarrelled with his Prime Minister, Mohammad Ali Foroughi, whose son had demonstrated against the regime during the Goharshad uprising, and Prince Aminollah Djahanbani, the same man who had been responsible for reorganizing the army, was imprisoned in 1938 – although he was later pardoned and made Iran”s Minister of the Interior in 1941. Reza Shah also had men of letters who were opposed to him, such as Farrokhi Yazdi and Mirzadeh Eshghi, executed or assassinated.
Since Reza became the strong man of the country, the first treaty concluded with a foreign country by Persia was a commercial treaty with the RSFS of Russia (during his reign, a treaty was signed on March 28, 1928 with Afghanistan, both of them friendship treaties. On January 6, 1929, the Majilis voted positively in the direction of a treaty of extradition of the Afghan criminals being on the Persian territory, and the same day, a treaty of free passage on the Soviet territory of the Persians. On April 16, 1929, Persia adheres to the Briand-Kellogg pact, or pact of Paris. On May 26, 1929, then on June 5 and 24, 1932 and on January 3, 1933, a series of treaties were concluded with neighboring Turkey aiming to develop trade, the recognition of common borders – those of Turkey having had to be clarified after Atatürk”s reconquests -, as well as the extradition of common prosecutors and the signing of a treaty of friendship. On February 14, 1938, a border recognition treaty was signed between Afghanistan and Iran, as well as a treaty settling a border dispute between the two countries and a treaty of friendship between the two countries, to signify that the incident was closed. On April 30 and May 9, 1939, three new treaties were signed between Iran and Afghanistan, governing the free exchange of mail, the continuity of the telegraph system and the sharing of the Helmand River.
Turkey, however, has always been the favorite in Persian and then Iranian international relations. Reza Shah never hid his great admiration for Kemalist Turkey and the great modernization that had taken place there. This is evident from the fact that the only trip Reza Shah made abroad, which never left his country – apart from a few pilgrimages to Karbala in Iraq – was to Turkey, from 2 June to 11 July 1934. Reza Shah was welcomed with pomp by his idol, who was also delighted to receive in his country such a great emulator of his work; for the emperor of Iran, it was a real consecration. However, Reza Shah, while the official trip is going in the best conditions, perceives the gap that still exists between the two countries, saying perhaps that he does not go far enough. This will reinforce his authoritarianism, already pronounced for some years, but especially his will to modernize at all costs. The kashf-e hijab, inspired by Atatürk”s dress reforms, will be the first measure he will submit to Parliament on his return.
The death of Mustafa Kemal, on November 10, 1938, will be declared a day of national mourning in Iran.
While getting rid of British influence, Reza Shah sought to create new links with Western countries. If the United States was little solicited, except for the construction of the Transiranian, France and Italy were, especially in the scientific and cultural fields, for the training of competent and qualified personnel. Switzerland, also, after the sending of the crown prince to Rosey, is among the new commercial partners of Persia.
In Persia, and later in Iran, commercial partnerships with Europe concerned above all France, then Italy and Germany, whose anti-British dimension appealed to Reza Shah. Despising Mussolini, Reza Shah had a lot of admiration for Hitler: taking a ruined nation plagued by many problems, he turned it into an economically stable, developed and orderly country, ideas that appealed to Reza Shah, a military man above all, and ignorant of the crimes of the Nazi regime, like everyone else at the time. Many agreements were made: industrialists and professors came from Germany to teach in Iran in 1936. On the eve of the Second World War, Germany, which equipped the army and had an exclusive contract for exports that did not find a buyer in the West, took care of the manpower and the engineering for the construction of railways and roads. The change of the name of Persia to Iran in foreign chancelleries in 1935 was partly linked to the partnership with Germany, both countries relying on the Aryan roots of their country.
Soon after the establishment of the parliamentary system in Iran, a strong desire to preserve and restore historical monuments was exhibited by educated Iranians and by some influential newspapers (e.g., Kāva, edited by Taghizadeh in Berlin). Sharing this enthusiasm, Reza Khan encouraged the founding of the Council of National Monuments (Anjoman-e Āṯār-e Mellī). The council, which received academic support and assistance from scholars such as Ernst Herzfeld, worked to achieve these goals. The characteristic style of Reza Shah”s reign, called rezashahi style at the time, developed-despite the ruler”s lack of culture. Even after the revolution, most of these buildings were listed as Iranian national heritage.
When Reza Shah spoke of his country”s glorious past, he was referring to the leaders and heroes of pre-Islamic Iran. In the 1930s, features reminiscent of ancient monuments were revived on a number of new government buildings. The police headquarters in Tehran had a long facade lined with copies of the columns of the Apadāna in Persepolis and also in Tehran the facade of the Bānk-e Mellī, designed by the German architect Hubert Heinrich. The portico with engaged columns was reminiscent of one of the Persepolis palaces. A girls” school featured a similar portico, which was crowned by the winged symbol of Ahura Mazda. The National Museum of Iran was inspired by a later period; its facade was a version of the main facade of the Sassanid palace at Ctesiphon.
The main historical monuments, long unguarded, were rebuilt and restored at the direct orders of Reza Shah. Isfahan was the main place of this concern, with monuments such as the Shah”s Mosque and the Sheikh Loftallah Mosque. A painstaking job of replacing large areas of missing mosaic tiles took years, and in the process, new tiles and tile cutters were created. The manufacture and use of tiles spread to other places, and new buildings were made and covered with structures such as the banks already mentioned.
Reza Shah undertook extensive destruction and construction in the cities to make them architecturally modern. The old city walls were torn down in Esfahan and elsewhere; the tiled gates of the Qajar period were destroyed in Tehran, and wide avenues were laid out in the major cities to replace muddy alleys: Tehran was given a straight network of wide avenues, all paved with stone blocks. Cities like Hamadan, Kermanshah and Ahvaz had avenues that radiated from a central square. At the circle stood a statue of Reza Shah, usually in marble, but sometimes in painted plaster – which deteriorated quickly.
The opening of the new urban areas was quick and easy. The course of a new avenue was marked by a line of tall posts with red flags attached to their tops. Demolition crews moved from post to post, leveling everything except for a mosque or shrine standing in the way and the avenue curving around it. New buildings were quickly erected on both sides of the avenues. Most of them had nothing to do with each other: solid brick walls, square window openings, and rather sloping tin roofs. Tehran was to be more elegant than the provincial cities, and Reza Shah ordered that all buildings be at least two stories high. In Mashad, a very wide circular avenue enclosed the mausoleum of Imam Reza. Property values had risen sharply in Tehran; and the traditional south-facing house with an open courtyard and swimming pool gave way to apartment buildings. The first skyscrapers of six stories or more were built in Tehran in 1941.
Structures to house a dozen ministries were built in Tehran. Most of them were in the neoclassical style, adaptations of contemporary European architecture with columns without bases or capitals. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose building was completed in 1939, was of a massive simplicity worthy of another popular building. In the quiet areas of Tehran, the ruler erected several palaces. In addition to private palaces for his family members, the Marble Palace was built for official receptions and utilities. The latter structure was of a “palace style”: white marble details on the outside and rich fabrics and priceless carpets on the inside. In building this palace complex, Reza Shah cesa to use the Golestān Palace of the Qajars and sought to showcase the Pahlavi dynasty. In the Šemrān region north of Tehran and at the foot of the mountains, the palace region of Sa”dābād was developed. Among these beautiful structures, a rather small private palace was built for the ruler (the Green Palace), decorated with the jewel of inlay work (ḵāṭem) from Shiraz.
On May 14, 1933, a new agreement was signed, approved by Parliament on May 28, 1933, and given Royal Assent on May 29, 1933. Under the terms of the new concession agreement, the following terms were agreed upon:
While this contract had little to show for the hopes it raised, it was the first to challenge British hegemony over Iranian oil, and was the beginning of a story that would lead to the unconditional nationalization of the 1979 revolution through the nationalization of 1951 and the signing of a consortium in 1954.
A collateral victim of this crisis was the powerful Abdolhossein Teymourtash, minister of the court. First placed under house arrest, then sent to Qasr prison on 20 February 1933, Teymourtash defended himself against these accusations.
“According to the information received, my fault in the eyes of His Majesty was to support the Company and the English (irony of fate. It is the English policy that has brought me down and continues to prepare my downfall), I felt obliged to give an immediate denial to this lie launched by the English press. I wrote a letter to Sardar As”ad saying that I had never signed anything with the company and that our last meeting with Sir John Cadman and the others was over.
Imprisoned in poor conditions, he died on September 3, 1933. The circumstances of his death are unclear, as Reza”s detractors claim that he ordered his execution through Dr. Ahmadi, an equally mysterious figure. Others argue that Reza Shah sought rather to put aside Teymourtash, whom he considered to have become too powerful.
The first embryos of a university were created when Reza Chah took an interest in the matter, at the beginning of the 1930s: a few higher schools, small neighborhood schools for the youngest… but the university, created under Nasseredin Chah, at the instigation of Amir Kabir, if it still exists, is in ruins. Reza Shah then uses the existing university formations to assemble them, and to supplement them by the creation of other higher schools. The state impulse will add to the already existing Higher School of Political Sciences and Higher School of Law schools for teacher training, a technical university, a Higher School of Commerce, a Higher Normal School …
Teymourtash was the first to mention, more or less unofficially, the importance of establishing a university, followed by Ali Asghar Hekmat, the Minister of Education, in 1934, in an official speech.
With these schools coming up, the land reserved for the puny university was expanded: the state acquired 300,000 square meters of land to house a campus. If the Majlis was partly scandalized by this expensive purchase, Reza Shah ironically said that “soon you will be cramped”, which would prove to be true, the land used for the university would be enlarged many times, under Reza Shah, as well as under Mohammad Reza Shah. The buildings were designed by the Frenchman André Godard, who had already been in charge of part of the urban planning of the new Tehran, and would later be in charge of the reconstruction of the mausoleum of Hafez in Shiraz. Ali Asghar Hekmat, in collaboration and consultation with André Godard, who was then also in the service of the Ministry of Education as an engineer, quickly looked for a suitable location for the university grounds. On the orders of Reza Shah, the Jalaliyeh Garden was selected. Jalaliyeh Garden was located in the northern part of the then Tehran between the village of Amirabad and the northern section of Tehran. This beautiful garden, full of orchards was founded in the early 1900s during the last years of Nasir ad-Din Shah, by order of Prince Jalal ad-dawlah.
The university admitted girls as students in 1937.
In 1935, the government notified foreign countries to stop using the name “Persia” and instead use “Iran” to refer to the country formerly known as Persia. For Iranians, this did not change much, as they had been using the name “Iran” to refer to their own country since the Sassanid era.
In addition, “Iran” means in Persian language “country of Aryans”.
This action, perhaps inspired by the Iranian ambassador to Germany, Abdol Ghassem Nadjm, aims to highlight the common Aryan roots of Iran and Germany in order to get a little closer and to draw “all the economic and political benefits in the context of . Ambassador Nadjm was in charge of promoting Iranian culture and history to the Germans.
In the West, the notification did not go over very well and would take years to enter people”s minds: in 1951, 16 years after the international change of the country”s name, the Pathé News (en) television report on the occasion of the wedding of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari, began its report with this opening sentence “Persia: a romantic fairy-tale country that came to life on the occasion of the marriage of its king.”
Another important aspect of Reza Shah”s reign is the promotion of the thousand-year-old Iranian culture, especially the pre-Islamic culture. This promoted culture is deeply affiliated, by his own admission, with Reza Shah”s reign. However, one celebration will be remembered as the flagship of this restoration of a historical and ancient national identity: the millennium of Ferdowsi.
Indeed, in 1934, Persia celebrates the millennium of the birth of the poet Ferdowsi. The latter was deeply praised by the authorities, particularly by Reza Shah, who had already become the defender and promoter of nationalism and, by extension, of Iranian identity.
This “Iranian identity” not being really defined before him, he links it especially to pre-Islamic Persia. Ferdowsi, however, lived in the tenth century, but he is much emphasized. He is best known for his life: he wrote the Book of Kings (Shāhnāmeh), for the then king of Persia, Mahmud of Ghazni, who promised him a fabulous treasure as a reward, which never arrived. Years later, the king finally paid the poet, but it was too late: when the legation arrived at Ferdowsi”s house in Tous, the poet had just died in misery in his native city. A romantic story that has always marked Reza Shah from his earliest years. In October 1934, some 45 orientalists from 18 countries came to Iran, invited by the Society for the Protection of Iranian Heritage. The Millennium Congress of Ferdowsi was held from October 2 to 6, 1934 and brought together Iranologists from all countries who promoted Iranian culture through the poet, author of the famous epic Shahnameh.
The millennium ended on October 28, 1934, when Reza Shah inaugurated Ferdowsi”s mausoleum in Tus, a monumental building that replaced the small stele that stood there before. He gave a laudatory speech about Ferdowsi, dotted with the Shahnameh”s passing. In the same year, the government finances a film on Ferdowsi”s life.
Also, Reza Shah is interested in the erection of another mausoleum, in 1935: the mausoleum of Hafez, which is rebuilt in 1935; this is not the first time that this has happened, various structures having succeeded each other since the first, in 1773. The mausoleum built in 1935 is the current one. The new mausoleum was designed by the French architect and archaeologist André Godard, on the site of the old structures. The tomb, its gardens, and the surrounding memorials dedicated to other great personalities have since become major attractions for tourism in Shiraz.
Reza Shah made many visits to the provinces, and in 1939, taking advantage of the brand new Trans-Iranian Railway, he made a well-publicized visit to Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Achaemenid kingdom.
Persepolis, the ancient capital of Cyrus, the Great King of Persia (and in the eyes of history, the first) par excellence, is one of the great locations of the empire favored by the Pahlavi: in 1931, the site, which was in a certain state of deterioration, was renovated: without touching the ruins, the Oriental Institute of Chicago, commissioned by Reza Shah, proceeded to work, including excavations, to uncover buried parts of the city. The excavations and observations of the IOC lasted throughout the decade and revealed magnificent and extremely well-preserved staircases and the so-called Harem of Xerxes, including the iconic stone gates, which could be partially reconstructed. The institute hired local people to do the excavations, and this effort was well received. Although some Iranians objected to archaeologists taking artifacts with them abroad, many Iranian intellectuals welcomed the rediscovery of the ancient Persian kings.
A known and criticized reform, probably inspired by the dress laws of Ataturk, and very courageous on the part of Reza Shah who knew that he was going to attract the wrath of many people: the ban on the wearing of veils for women. Since the Qadjar era, there had been several signs that the “Unveiling” (kashf-e hijab) would take place, and even more so since the advent of Reza Shah. Around 1935, the first dress law concerned men: they were invited to abandon clothes considered passé and to exchange the traditional fez for a Western hat, soon to be called by the population “Pahlavi hat”. The idea of a dress reform for women was born and led by Mohammad Ali Foroughi: but if the men”s dress reform did not seem to “pose too many problems”, the women”s dress reform triggered strong protests, the most famous of which took place at the Goharshad mosque; all of them were suppressed by the army Many feminist associations consider the veil as a tool of submission and segregation, and fight for its prohibition, with the aim of equalizing the sexes. This fits in with the Westernist and, by extension, modernizing aspect that Reza Shah wishes to give to his reign.
At the end of 1935, the reform of the “Liberation of Iranian women” was born. On January 8, 1936, during a celebration in the Preliminary Faculty (college), Queen Taj ol-Molouk and her daughters appeared in Western dress, without veil. Reza Shah also attended the ceremony, proclaiming the law in force. The veil is now prohibited in public places, except religious monuments.
Probably the most contested of Reza Shah”s reforms, it was violently applied, although some historians consider that a more gentle application would have made it more acceptable to the population. Many women hid in their homes, fleeing the law. The urban trafficking of women in Iran was, however, rather reduced, as Esmat ol-Molouk will affirm, both before and after the promulgation of the law. Some medium-quality sources claim that when Reza Shah fell, many women showed their joy by going out into the streets veiled. But if indeed the law was not really applied during the whole reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, women probably came out veiled little by little, not being able to guess that the new shah would not apply to the letter a law of his father; Iran being then in the middle of a foreign occupation and the future of the country in full uncertainty since the abdication of Reza Shah, it is probable that this kind of event never took place.
One of the most important criticisms of Reza Shah was the acquisition of very (too) large landed estates in the Mazandaran province. If this is true, the emperor made it his personal property, which made the previous owners, usually large landowners, lose much of their power. Depending on the source, the amount of territory varies from a part of Mazandaran to the entire land bordering the Caspian Sea. Somewhat to compensate for the criticism that was not long in coming, Reza Shah made these territories benefit from special attention: the innovations that were spreading in the country were particularly imposed there, which split the population between peasants who saw their standard of living improve and feudal (or ex-feudal) people who were unhappy to see themselves dispossessed of their lands. Reza Shah made them benefit from “new equipment, land reclamation, construction of schools and dispensaries, increased literacy”.
After the fall of Reza Shah, the parliament passed a law to compensate the large landowners and all those who had suffered from this expropriation, either to be compensated or to get their land back, which most of them did. However, no source mentions any inventory or list of compensated people that would allow us to know the size and quantity of these lands. Massoud Behnoud speaks of about 1.5 million hectares of land.
On July 8, 1937, a multilateral non-aggression treaty was signed between Iran and its main neighbors: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk”s Turkey, Ghazi I”s Iraq and Mohammad Zaher Shah”s Afghanistan. It promises mutual assistance of countries to each other if they are threatened, not to upset the politics of these countries by not supporting and even chasing external opponents of other countries. The treaty, initiated mainly by Iraq and Turkey, is aimed at fighting Kurdish separatist movements in the north and east of the country respectively. Reza Shah”s Iran, while not wishing to see secessionist tensions emerge (which would not happen after Reza Shah”s accession to power), especially among the Kurds, saw this as a way of getting closer – even more so – to Kemalist Turkey and also of establishing itself a little better in the region by having elaborate relations with its neighbors. He also reaffirms his intention and desire to centralize the state by removing the powers of the tribes and minorities.
If it is a part of the foreign relations of the country with its neighbors, the treaty of Sa”dabad constitutes an additional pride for Iran; if it does not come out excessively winning from the treaty, it is Iran which welcomes the negotiators of all its neighbors and the treaty is signed in the heart of the capital, in the palace complex of Sa”adabad, where the Pahlavi family lives then. Moreover, all the countries concerned are bordering Iran, and one can thus notice that everything is then articulated around Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey being otherwise not connected.
In the early 1930s, Reza also ordered the establishment of a kind of Iranian economic bond: the Crown Jewels, a collection that he himself enlarged somewhat for his coronation – and which would be further enlarged during the reign of his son. They were given to the National Bank of Iran as currency; ownership of the imperial treasure was transferred to the state by a parliamentary law on November 16, 1937. The jewels were placed in the coffers of the National Bank of Iran, where they were used as collateral to strengthen the financial power of the institution and to support the national monetary system. Only the country”s attorney general will have the right to request their use, and only temporarily.
After Reza Shah”s abdication, a rumor spread through the press that Reza Shah had taken the Crown Jewels with him when he left Iran and had made them the inalienable property of the state. This was denied when Prime Minister Foroughi appointed a commission of parliamentarians and judges to go to the National Bank to see that nothing had disappeared.
In 1960, during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, the jewels were transferred to a new section of the Central Bank: the Treasury of the Central Bank, where they were displayed for public viewing.
Even after the Islamic Revolution, the jewels will continue to be displayed, as they are still used to support the Iranian currency. The Central Bank Treasury has since been renamed the National Treasury of Iranian Jewels.
In 1937, the crown prince, Mohammad Reza, returned to Iran after 4 years of study in Switzerland. He made friends there, notably Hossein Fardoust, and Ernest Perron, two characters who would become his close friends when he became king. While he was still a student, he and his fellow students had returned to Iran for the vacations and had been captivated by the new face of the country. Reza Shah had brought him before the cabinet, the board of the National Assembly, the deputies of the National Assembly and high-ranking officers. He said: “I have done great service to my country, but the greatest is the crown prince I am giving to it: You cannot know it now, but you will see his abilities when he assumes his duties. You cannot know yet.”
Mohammad Reza then did his military service in Iran, following many exhausting and even dangerous rituals, worthy of commandos. In June 1938, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and graduated at the top of his class; after his military studies, he was closely associated with his father”s role as monarch. He accompanied him everywhere, attended all the performances, most of the visits and the audiences. Some issues, such as education and culture, are directly managed by the Crown Prince.
Reza Chah then seeks to marry his son: the main idea is to conclude a dynastic arrangement which allows the rooting of the dynasty. This solution seems to be necessary because of the constitutional amendment of 1925 which forbids the future Iranian sovereign to have a Qâdjare mother: this explains why all the sons of Reza Shah, except Ali Reza and Mohammad Reza, cannot claim the throne. This precautionary measure taken by Reza Khan without measuring the consequences, forces the crown prince to marry a foreigner. If possible, a member of an old and recognized dynasty: a young dynasty like the Pahlavi needed an alliance with the monarchies of neighboring and Arab countries, which were very numerous at the time, to gain legitimacy. Several solutions were envisaged: in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia… and even in Turkey where the Ottoman dynasty remained prestigious. Reza Shah and Mahmoud Jam are afraid of upsetting secular Turkey, which put an end to the Ottoman Empire, which however indicates another solution, Arab and African.
Royal Egypt, on January 20, 1938, married its sovereign, Farouk I, to the beautiful Safinaz Zulfikar, known as Farida, a true event of the year of the world gotha. A resplendent wedding, which follows the accession to power of Farouk I after the death of his father Fouad I on April 28, 1936. The Egyptian court has an unparalleled oriental pomp that fascinates and marvels, before later provoking criticism. It is an ideal ally and it happens that Farouk has many sisters, whose eldest, Fawzia, is about the age of the crown prince. Cairo was discreetly consulted, but the affair became known even though Reza Shah had ordered the greatest discretion. The delegation was recalled by the furious old monarch who waited for the noise to die down before resuming negotiations.
On May 26, 1938, the imperial palace announced that a delegation led by Prime Minister Mahmoud Djam was going to Cairo to agree on the marriage between the crown prince and Fawzia of Egypt, daughter of King Fouad I and sister of the young Farouk I, enthroned two years earlier. The couple had never met and did not speak the same language, communicating in French. Less than a year later, in March 1939, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi travelled to Egypt with a retinue; he was welcomed at the Koubbeh Palace by King Farouk and members of the Egyptian royal family, and met his future wife, Princess Fawzia. On March 16, 1939, Mohammad Reza married Fawzia at Abedin Palace in Cairo according to the Sunni rite. A second ceremony, according to the Shiite rite, took place in Tehran, at the Imperial Palace of Golestan, on 25 April 1939. Because the two spouses are of different confessions: Sunni Islam for Fawzia and Shiite Islam for Mohammad Reza. But also, in Iran, the nationality of the future queen is posed: when will she become Iranian, and what will be the nationality of her eventual son?
At the end of November 1938, Mahmoud Djam holds his solution: the Parliament, by measure of exception, the Iranian nationality is granted to Fawzia, whereas the latter did not set foot yet in Iran.
The wedding in Tehran was disturbed by Queen Mother Nazli, mother of Farouk and Fawzia, who came to Tehran for her daughter”s wedding, and who felt the difference between the Versailles court of Egypt and the more modest Tehran court, where etiquette was more approximate. In Cairo, this opulence had almost humiliated the crown prince and his retinue, who will record this in his memoirs. However, to receive the family of his daughter-in-law, Reza Shah has put the small dishes in the big and valued the transformation of the city for fifteen years (even if the city is still far below Alexandria or Cairo), paving the processions of floats and decorations similar to those that had welcomed Mohammad Reza in Egypt. But Nazli never ceases to belittle everyone and when the celebrations are over and she leaves for France, the whole court blows.
The two spouses seemed to get along well and to love each other, making the cover of the newspapers and focusing the attention of the court. The birth of a daughter, Chahnaz, on 27 October 1940, the day after her father”s 21st birthday, consolidated their union. The latter was spoiled by her grandfather who adored her and even gave her a palace in the park of Sa”ad-Abad, where Chahnaz lived after her marriage to Ardéshir Zahédi in 1957.
The abdication of Reza Shah and his exile triggered a wave of revenge from the Court towards Fawzia. The new queen-mother Taj ol-Molouk and her supporters did not forgive Fawzia for the vexations suffered by Nazli in 1939, whereas Reza Shah, who was very fond of his daughter-in-law, had contained their ambitions. In 1945, Fawzia went to Egypt to visit her brother and to pay flowers to Reza Shah”s grave. Her relationship with her husband had deteriorated and she could no longer bear the courtier climate. Despite endless negotiations, she refused to return and the divorce from Mohammad Reza Shah was pronounced in 1948.
In 1939, after the marriage of Crown Prince Mohammad Reza and Fawzia Fouad, and while the two were finishing their honeymoon on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Reza Shah called the Crown Prince back to the capital, whom he wished to involve in the affairs of state from now on. From the time of the Crown Prince”s return, around June 1939, the latter attended meetings of the Council of Ministers, where he gave his opinion, and meetings of Parliament, inaugurated some buildings in the provinces, and inspected the progress of the Trans-Iranian Railway on many occasions, generally accompanied by his wife; in addition, the problems which take place in Europe and which will lead to the Second World War are badly known in Iran, and Reza Chah wishes to have at his side a new glance, as well as his son who is polyglot, contrary to Reza Chah, who does not know any European language
In the country, the situation is calm: the opposition of the clerics, exacerbated since the ban on the veil, has subsided; women themselves leave their homes, dressed in European clothes, but in high-collared European clothes, long skirts, and large, wraparound hats. People have learned to live with Reza Shah, who has ruled for about 15 years, even though his authoritarianism still muzzles important parts of society, especially the press. Radio has not yet made its appearance in Iran, which is not long in coming, as Radio Tehran was created at the end of the emperor”s reign.
The last of the innovations of Reza Shah”s reign was the radio. Radio Tehran was put into service on 24 April 1940, and one of the first to speak on the air was the Crown Prince, sent by his father. The population discovered the voice of Mohammad Reza, the future king, and wondered whether Reza Chah was not preparing his succession.
It is true that the crown prince had completed his training as a future king, and that Reza Shah had recently associated him with power. Moreover, Reza Shah, on March 15, 1940, enters his sixty-third year: not very canonical age, even for the time, but rather advanced by the conditions of life that were those of Reza Shah in the first forty years of his life, when he was an obscure Cossack named Reza Khan.
World War II and deposition (1939 – 1941)
Anxious to become independent from Great Britain, Reza Shah drew closer to Germany economically, to the point that Germany became his main trading partner in 1939. This rapprochement worried the British, especially since Germany had become Nazi in 1933. When the war broke out, the British asked Reza Shah to expel German citizens from the country, which he refused, being neutral.
Reza Shah, having declared Iran”s neutrality, again refused a request from the Allies to use the country to smuggle ammunition, prompting Britain and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to mount Operation Countenance, which resulted in an Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran on August 25.
Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and was sent into exile by the British, first to Mauritius and then to Johannesburg, where he died in 1944.
His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, succeeded him until the Islamic revolution of 1979.
While the Crown Prince was recalled in the summer of 1939 from the shores of the Caspian Sea where he was spending his honeymoon, the international situation was becoming very tense in Europe: since the Anschluss, when Germany annexed Austria, then the creation of the anti-Komintern pact and finally the crises in Czechoslovakia and Poland, the world was beginning to be divided into camps. Officially, Iran was detached from all these conflicts, despite the numerous economic contracts that linked it to the Third Reich. However, Reza Shah”s declared fraternity with the Germans as well as old disputes strongly irritated the British. On September 1, 1939, the German invasion of Poland triggered what was to become the Second World War. Immediately, the Shah asserted the neutrality of his country. He feared reprisals: he hammered his country”s neutral position in the conflict on several occasions, notably at the opening of the new Majlis legislature. However, he took contradictory actions that did not reassure the anti-German camp: on 26 October 1940, the Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jam, resigned to take up the post of Minister of the Court, which had been vacant since the ousting of Teymourtash seven years earlier. He was replaced by Dr Ahmad Matin-Daftari, who had a reputation as a Germanophile. His cabinet also included many pro-German and anti-British personalities. For its part, Berlin, which received a special dispatch from Tehran, said it respected the Iranians” choice: London saw this as a thinly veiled connivance.
In June 1940, after the French capitulation, and while Matin-Daftari”s role was to negotiate a rapid end to the partnership with the Berlin economy, Reza Shah”s attitude changed: he clearly feared reprisals from the British camp, although at the time the Germans were on a roll: Matin-Daftari was dismissed, as were all the Germanophiles and anti-British members of his cabinet; he was replaced by Ali Mansour, who had a reputation for being pro-British and who appointed anti-German members to his cabinet. Moreover, Matin-Daftari was arrested and imprisoned for no more reason than his anti-British reputation; similarly, like-minded army officers, such as General Zahedi, were asked to keep a low profile; and finally, Mohammad Mossadegh, who had been out of politics for many years on his estates and who had not asked anyone for anything, was arrested and exiled. For him too, it was the reputation that made Reza Shah change tactics, while the BBC, where Ann Lambton was heard a lot, began to attack the Shah ferociously with great propaganda.
The extension of the conflict to the USSR on 22 June 1941 and the breaking of the German-Soviet pact put Iran in a delicate position: it found itself encircled by anti-German countries, with the USSR to the north, the British Indian Empire to the east, and Iraq, where the British were still very present despite the country”s theoretical independence (only Afghanistan did not represent a theoretical threat. Moreover, the countries in question had an increasingly aggressive attitude: in July 1941, the Allies demanded, and then required, the departure from the country of all personalities closely or remotely linked to the Axis powers: Reza Shah assured them that the Germans would leave, but refused to expel them, postponing their departure sine die. His attitude towards this de facto ultimatum made the decision to carry out the invasion.
On August 25, 1941, at 5 am, the British army invaded Iran from the south and southwest; the Soviet army also invaded from the north. An hour later, Reader Bullard (en) and Andrey Andreyevich Smirnov (en), plenipotentiary ministers of the United Kingdom and the USSR, went to Ali Mansour, Prime Minister, to notify him of this invasion, decided by the Shah”s intransigence. The latter then received them at Saad”abad, where he remained firm in the face of them, following their example. The Council of Ministers met: the first losses were reported, then it was decided that the United States, neutral in the conflict (at the time), would be called in to find a solution.
The Iranians then had 200,000 soldiers, 9 infantry divisions supported by about 60 light and medium tanks of Czech origin and a small air force of 80 aircraft. The Iranian army was designed more for internal law enforcement and to deal with a few border incidents, but it could not do much against the Soviet army, and above all, the most powerful army in the world, that of the United Kingdom. At Khorramshahr, it was a real carnage, and almost the entire navy was destroyed; miraculously, the British advance was stopped at Kermanshah in the west, and at Ahwaz in the south. But not for long, and Tehran took advantage of this to ask for peace, while the expulsions of Italian, German and Romanian nationals continued. Reza Shah had few illusions about the situation, and Ali Mansour was asked to hand in his resignation, for the moment when a successor, capable of facing the serious crisis, would be found.
Reza Shah consulted many people; he also took it upon himself to recall Ghavam os-Saltaneh, the man he had brought down in 1925 in order to gain power. But the latter was in the north of the country and could not reach the capital. So Reza Shah consulted a fellow traveler with whom he had been angry: Mohammad Ali Fouroughi. Called to the capital, after being kept waiting, he was received by the Shah. They forgot their old grudges and Foroughi was appointed Prime Minister on 29 August. He sought to guarantee the independence and integrity of the country by limiting hostilities, and all means were good, including sacrificing Reza Shah to replace him with his son, constantly with his father and the Prime Minister.
On 29 August, when the British had crossed Khorramchahr and Ahwaz the day before, the War Ministry incomprehensibly ordered the disbanding of the army and the sending of the troops home, perhaps to avoid making vain sacrifices. Reza Shah, who also learned the news by radio, exploded at a meeting of officers and wanted to shoot General Ahmad Nakhadjavan, Minister of War, and an officer accused of connivance. The Shah was calmed by the audience and Nakhadjavan was removed from office and replaced by Mohammad Nakhadjavan, who had been trained in Imperial Russia. The situation did not improve: soldiers and conscripts wandered, without orders and without weapons, in the capital in full confusion and fear. The capital was secured by General Ahmad Amir Ahmadi, and the gendarmerie, led by General Zahedi, as a substitute for the army. However, Foroughi sent the invaders the clauses of a peace, and the armistice was signed on August 30. On 8 September an agreement was signed between Iran and the Allies, which ratified the creation of two occupation zones. In the north-west, the Tabriz area and the banks of the Caspian were occupied by the Red Army, while the British occupied the oil fields of Abadan and Kermanshah. Tehran also agreed to facilitate the transit of British military cargoes to the USSR for the Eastern Front. The oil concessions to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company were renewed on more advantageous terms for the latter for the duration of the occupation.
It was also planned that the Allied troops would enter the capital; Reza Chah saw this as a sign that his time had come. Explicitly, on 15 September, the plenipotentiary ministers returned, demanding Reza Shah”s abdication and his departure from the capital by the following day; otherwise the allies would settle the question themselves. The decision to depose him was apparently taken in high places on 12 September by Stafford Cripps and Stalin. The radios of London, New Delhi and Moscow, picked up in Teheran, did not cease to attack the Shah, and the USSR demanded the proclamation of a republic, which would be more malleable, while London, which did not dislike this idea, would prefer to re-establish the Kadjars. The nephew of Ahmad Shah, who died in 1931, Soltan Hamid Mirza, son of Mohammad Hassan Mirza, was approached: cultured, refined and Anglophile, he was perfect, but had left Persian soil at the age of four, and did not speak Persian. The idea is abandoned.
The “Pahlavi option” of abdicating Reza Shah and proclaiming his son Chāhinchāh was not really considered by the allies. Foroughi, on the other hand, pragmatically considered this option, as did Reza Shah. The crown prince, on the other hand, was more sceptical: he was afraid of an Anglo-Soviet coup de force. On the morning of 16 September, Foroughi and Reza Shah met one last time at the Marble Palace. The abdication was drafted by the Prime Minister. Then the Shah left the palace, where he held this dialogue with the Crown Prince: “And if the Russians enter the capital, it will be the revolution? To which his father replied, sarcastically: “Nothing will happen, they only want my skin. And they got it.
The now deposed Shah then went to the palace garden, where he got into a car, setting off for an exile from which he would not return. His children, except Mohammad Reza, left with him. Then, at the end of the morning, Foroughi went to the Majlis palace, whose perimeter had been secured and whose deputies had been assembled, and read out to them the abdication of Reza Shah:
“Pahlavi, Shah of Iran
Considering the fact, that I have spent all my energy in the affairs of the country during all these years and have weakened in it, I feel that now the time has come for a young, energetic and skillful person to take charge of the affairs of the country, which require constant attention, and to give himself the means, for the prosperity and welfare of the nation. Thus, I have entrusted the monarchical office to the Crown Prince, my successor, and resigned myself. From this day on, 25 Shahrivar 1320 (16 September 1941), the whole nation, both civilians and military, must recognize in the monarchy my Crown Prince and legal successor, and do for him all that they have done for me, protecting the interests of the country.
Marble Palace, Tehran, 25 Shahrivar 1320 (September 16, 1941), Reza Shah Pahlavi “
In the afternoon, Foroughi returned to the Marble Palace, and found a hesitant crown prince. He urges him to go and take the oath: this is the essential action to become emperor according to the Constitution of 1906, because since the abdication of Reza Chah was read, Iran, which no longer has an emperor, is ruled by the Prime Minister. They go to the Majlis headquarters in Baharestan, an ultra-secure area in the care of General Amir-Ahmadi, and, while the Soviets and British are a few hours away from the capital to which they go, the crown prince becomes Mohammad Reza Shah, shāhanshāh of Iran, taking the oath of office on the Constitution of 1925 at 3:10 pm. At 4:00 p.m., no sooner had Foroughi and Mohammad Reza Shah left the parliament than the allied troops invested Tehran; except that they would not risk deposing the new shah, at the risk of alienating the population.
Exile and death (1941 – 1944)
After his abdication, Reza Shah lives in seclusion in Isfahan, where his daughter Ashraf records that his appearance has suddenly aged. She even wondered if he had had a small stroke after his abdication that had been kept secret. He remains a danger to the Allies, who force him to leave the country. When he left the Persian land for the last time, which he knew he would never set foot on again, he picked up a handful of Iranian soil, which he would keep for the rest of his life. He was to go to Argentina, where the British had agreed to let him go, but while he was at sea, he learned that the destination had changed: he was sent to Mauritius. Although he protested, he went anyway. Although he was happy there, surrounded by his family, at the end of 1942, the British transferred him to South Africa. Once he arrived in Johannesburg, he stayed there, always surrounded by his family, especially his daughter Shams.
If all his family seems to live well, it is not the case of the ex-emperor. In the photographs, he never smiles, looks downcast and is getting thinner by the minute. His daughter Ashraf came to visit him in the winter of 1942-1943. But the Shah shut himself up in the house, enjoying no distractions, railing against his enemies, especially the British. His heart condition began to deteriorate but he was delighted to receive a gift from his granddaughter Shahnaz. A few other rare events brightened up his boring daily life: on July 25, 1944, he received a record from Tehran, on which he could hear the voice of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah. He left his house, went to a recording studio, where he recorded a record himself: “Do not fear anything and go ahead! I have laid a solid foundation for a new Iran. Continue my work. And never trust the English.
The next day, July 26, 1944, he was discovered unconscious by his butler Izadi who had come to wake him up. A doctor was called, who could only make the following statement: the former emperor, Reza Chah Pahlavi, had died of a cardiac arrest during his sleep.
After his death in Johannesburg, his body was finally brought back to the East: temporarily, he was buried in the Al-Rifaï mosque in Cairo in 1945, during a funeral attended by his sons Gholam Reza and Ali Reza. His grave is notably flowered soon after by his daughter Ashraf and his daughter-in-law Fawzia.
In 1948, the Majlis posthumously granted him the title of “the Great” as a reigning nickname, and he was subsequently called Reza Shah Pahlavi Kabir (Reza Shah Pahlavi the Great).
In June 1950, shortly after a strengthening of his powers, the Shah organized a national funeral for his father, and his body was repatriated from Egypt – with which relations were then quite degraded – to be placed in a large mausoleum, south of Tehran in the district of Rey. Built by a son of the former Prime Minister Foroughi, this large building was a place of pilgrimage for his supporters from all sides, and it was a curious sight to see veiled women taking off their shoes to enter the last resting place of Reza Shah the layman. It is also home to a few other personalities: Ali-Reza Pahlavi, who died in 1954; Haj Ali Razmara, assassinated in 1951; Soleiman Behboudi, Reza Shah”s butler and friend; General Fazlollah Zahedi, who died in 1963; and Hassan Ali Mansour, assassinated in 1965.
The Mausoleum is also the scene of a celebration in June 1976 organized to mark the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Reza Shah, and the advent of the Pahlavi dynasty.
Another celebration took place, when the troubles that would lead to the Iranian Revolution had already largely begun, on March 15, 1978, for the centenary of Reza Shah, at the same Mausoleum.
After the triumph of the Revolution, Khomeini sent a team to recover the body of the deposed emperor. But when the tomb was opened, the new authorities discovered that the monarch”s coffin was missing. Despite strong protests, including from Sadegh Gotzadeh, who wanted to turn it into a museum, the mausoleum was completely razed, a destruction supervised by Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali. The body was finally discovered in April 2018, when workers at a construction site concerning the Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine found its mummified remains unearthed by an excavator.
His son who succeeded him was overthrown by the Islamic revolution in 1979. The dynasty he founded survived, however, and despite the death of his son, the last reigning Shah, in Egypt in 1980, the Pahlavi dynasty is still represented in the person of Reza Shah”s grandson, Reza Pahlavi, former crown prince and called by his supporters Reza Shah II. He is in fact the leader of part of the Iranian opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
After his deposition, during the reign of his son, and then less officially, the era of Reza Shah, and especially after his death, was transformed into a real legend, even myth. His admiration for the West, his concern for progress, to get rid of the influence of the great powers, to modernize the society in great strides, to make it a powerful nation, and as a proof of success the gap that existed between the Iran of 1921 and the one of 1941 made Reza Shah “the Great”, a character with a grandiose concern for progress, who knew how to go back to the historical roots of his country, while knowing how to move forward, to develop any form of infrastructure, social security, police, labor, industry.
His great successes were also the search to reduce considerably the religious power, very important at the time of the Qâdjars and, according to his supporters, by extension, of the British, the two having had very vague links before and during the reign of Reza Shah. The suppression of feudalization of the territories, under the influence of large tribes, and many mullahs, raised some criticism from the religious side that Reza Shah silenced with more or less firmness. Moreover, his advances were not limited to his reign, but became the basis for the progress made during the next reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, who was also involved in the establishment of new infrastructures and laws and customs more inspired by the West than by Iranian customs and traditions.
All the laws undertaken during his reign, especially in favor of the equalization of the sexes, had a good impact and were amplified and continued during the reign of his son, who lasted twice as long and thus had more time to make other reforms. These would not have been possible without the previous reign. A large part of the current Iranian diaspora considers Reza Shah to be the founder of a modern Iran, without necessarily endorsing the regime of his successor, which is much more controversial. The opposite (more rare) also happens. His supporters see in him the rebirth of a fantastic Iran, the founder of a “Neo-Antique” dynasty, to some extent linked to the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, as the millennium of Ferdowsi in 1934 was linked to the 2,500 years of Persian monarchy celebrated in 1971, both of them having the vocation to remind Iranians of their ancient and glorious roots, while wanting to be demonstrative.
Iranian culture, and especially pre-Islamic Iranian culture, also remained the great privileged of Reza Shah”s reign: many poets, writers, historians, translators and philosophers made their comeback on the Iranian scene, as well as “invading” school textbooks and arousing interest: the population rediscovered Ali Dashti, Omar Khayyam, Sadegh Hedayat, Saïd Nafissi, Bahar, while discovering emulators like Nima Yushij.
Somehow Reza Shah also went further than his model, Atatürk: Mustafa Kemal started from something, from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, while Reza Shah started from almost nothing: he built by himself, and in a record time (about 15 years) a modern state that was clearly different from what it was before him. A transformation probably executed with the force of his fist.
On the other hand, there is violent criticism of the authoritarianism of the penultimate emperor of Iran. After the Iranian Revolution, his image was seriously damaged by the new regime. This had a lasting impact: thus, the series “The Mystery of the Shah”, where Reza Shah appears at the beginning, emphasizes the physical aspect sometimes – but rarely – violent of the character, with the manners of a bribe-taker, as well as the authoritarianism of his regime – especially towards the clerical opposition, even if it means turning him into a thick opium-addicted bully, under the influence of various lobbies, among which the “bah”ai lobby”, scorned by the clerics, who consider bahaism as a cult. His admiration for Atatürk can also be criticized, because Atatürk built his modern state on the debris of the Ottoman Empire, a state that was nevertheless much better organized than the Persia of the Qajars, which was completely miserable. Similarly, his reforms would have reached only the surface of the masses, which is difficult to evaluate today. His proximity to Nazi Germany was also pointed out. The amalgam was even attempted by some of his detractors as a way of saying that more than a commercial and economic partner of Germany at the time, he was himself a real Nazi.
Moreover, it is true that some aspects of his reign are disconcerting: the “mysterious” deaths in prison of men of letters like Farrokhi Yazdi or politicians who were his allies or even friends, such as the minister of the court Abdol-Hossein Teymourtash, for a long time Reza Shah”s damned soul before being brutally deposed in 1932, during the D”Arcy oil concession dispute. These deaths are almost all linked to Dr. Ahmadi, a criminal doctor who tortured and murdered the prisoners under his care in prison. Historians believe that the emperor directly ordered their assassination, a decision transmitted by General Mokhtari, head of the police, to Dr. Ahmadi according to the latter.
Whether he was minister, commander of the army, or emperor, Reza Shah is credited with a rather large list of achievements that emanate more or less directly from his person, which he carried in any case:
Here is a non-exhaustive list of these accomplishments:
Reza Shah had a pronounced physical side; his detractors described him as very violent. It is true that it was not uncommon for him to use his hands when he was upset: early in his reign, a man, though an admirer, came to him to express how much he admired him, but spoke very crudely of the Qajars. Reza took the way he spoke about his predecessors – whom he had overthrown – very badly and slapped his admirer who was chased away. The spectators, dumbfounded by what they had just seen, after having asked the emperor for an explanation, who answered that he found this “lèse-majesté” unforgivable, ordered him to abandon these bribe-taker manners – for the bravest. Reza Shah replied that he would see to it.
He almost kept his word, except sometimes: in 1928, Tadj ol-Molouk, who went to pray at the tomb of Fatimah in Qôm for Norouz (March 21), had the bad idea to change her chador (a black one replaced by a white one) inside the tomb: Thus, she remained a few seconds bareheaded in a mosque, which could shock the ultra-rigorists, and that happened: a cleric saw her, attacked her and expelled her noisily from the tomb. The next day, the king, angered by the humiliation of his very religious wife, arrived furiously at the mausoleum of Fatimah to find the cleric. He entered quickly and forgot to take off his boots. The same cleric shouted at him too, but he could not drive him away: Reza Shah, drunk with anger, reacted by beating the cleric with a riding crop. The incident was quickly hushed up.
Other smaller events occurred: one day he defended a minister who tried to justify himself, and after General Nakhadjavan, in 1941, gave an erroneous order that paralyzed the army, he ordered that a weapon be fetched to shoot him, along with another officer involved in the story. The ministers managed to calm him down with some difficulty.
It should also be noted that Reza Shah had a discreet but deep scar on his nose, due to a saber blow he received during a fight when he was a Cossack. This same sword blow had reduced the visibility of his left eye.
Moreover, Reza Shah had a theatrical way of doing things to mark the spirits in a generally political objective, during the oil crisis of 1932-1933 for example: on October 28, 1932, during a visit to Abadan, the shah knew that a good part of the area, managed by British or Indian foremen, was forbidden to the Persians; the opportunity to make a big deal of it presented itself: Reza Shah had a pipeline tap opened to supply oil tankers, causing a huge oil spill in the Chatt el-arab river. While the entire audience is stunned, the emperor remains impassive, then turns on his heels, saying, “Since it is stolen from us, it may as well be lost to all!” This is the beginning of a crisis, but the press, in order not to offend more Britons than those present who witnessed the scene, transforms the “Since it is stolen from us…” into “Since it does not bring us anything…”
Reza Shah, although he became emperor of an “emerging country” did not change his lifestyle, which remained simple, even ascetic: he always ate simply, did not have any extramarital affairs, did not participate in any festivities, except for official celebrations, and slept in his palaces on the floor, on a simple mattress.
Reza Shah was always convinced that there was a grand plot orchestrated by the British to dethrone him, which succeeded in September 1941. That is why no scholarship students were sent to the UK under Reza Shah. The slightest unionized strike was also bound to be linked to the Communist Party, and thus to the Soviet Union, for the man who, as a young man, had destroyed the Gilan republic.
The heightened distrust of the United Kingdom continued under the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, who himself felt that he was the victim of an American plot. This conspiracy found many relays after the revolution, in the Islamic republic, which accused the Pahlavis of being themselves members of a Western plot to destroy shi”ism or Islam, and agents of the United Kingdom. Khomeini, for his part, judged that the Pahlavis had kept themselves in power by taking part in a Judeo-Masonic and Bahai plot.
Reza Shah married four times and was the father of seven boys and four girls.
In 1903, he had a daughter, Fatemeh or Fatimah Ashraf (en) (22 February 1903-1992). Her mother is said to be either Maryam, whom Reza married in 1894, or Tajmah, whom he married in 1903. Maryam died in the same year as her daughter”s birth, and Reza raised her alone; Reza and Tajmah divorced the same year. Better known as Hamdan-ol-Saltaneh, she married Hadi Atabay around 1923, who is said to have been the son of her grandmother Nouche Afarine”s second husband, Reza Shah”s mother.
Between 1903 and 1915, Reza Shah is believed to have had at least one other wife, a certain Safia Khanum, in 1913. The Islamic republic accused him of having abandoned one or more families, as it is difficult to find out about them. At the time of the Islamic revolution, a woman from Hamadan, who called herself Sadigeh Shah (fa), wrote to Ayatollah Khomeini to be recognized as the daughter of Reza Shah. She was born in 1917 to a certain Zara, who had an affair with Reza Khan, apparently stationed in Hamadan between 1912 and 1915. Born after the departure of her father and raised as a tubercular and then as a boy, all secretly, she was recognized as an abandoned member of the former imperial family by the Ayatollah. When she died in 1989, she was buried as “Sadigeh Shah Pahlavi, 1296-1368”. The memoirs of General Fardoust support this thesis.
His second (or fourth) wife was Nimtaj Khanum Ayromlou, daughter of General Teymour Khan Ayromlou. The marriage with the latter allows Reza to rise socially, in 1915. In the 1920s, Nimtaj receives the “title” of Tadj ol-Molouk, which means “crown of the kings”; one will call it henceforth. She and Reza had four children:
Without divorcing, he separated from Tadj ol-Molouk around 1922.
In 1923, he married Malak Touran Khanum Amir Soleimani os-Saltaneh, known as Qamar ol-Molk, daughter of Issa Mohammad Khan known as Majd ol-Saltaneh, son of Major General Haji Mehdi Quli Khan-e Qajar Quyunlu known as Majd ol-Dowleh, maternal uncle of Nasseredin Shah Qajar. They have a son:
But in 1923, Qamar ol-Molouk tried to sell a necklace, which her husband, then generalissimo, had given her shortly before. Hurt, their relationship deteriorated quickly, and they divorced. Before the end of the year, he remarried, his influence still growing, to Esmat (or Ismate) ol-Molouk Dowlatshahi, daughter of Gholam ”Ali Mirza Dowlatshahi, Qadjar prince. They had five children:
When Reza Khan became Reza Shah, only Taj ol-Molouk was given the title of queen consort. However, his other wife, Esmat Dowlatshahi, was not given an official title and was sometimes referred to as queen consort of Persia, which some sources claim, where she had a status equivalent to that of Taj ol-Molouk. However, Reza Shah lived with her for twenty years, being very attached to her; she followed him in his exile, until his death in 1944. Esmat ol-Molouk was one of the rare personalities of the imperial family to remain in Iran despite the revolution; unlike her son Hamid Reza, she was not worried and remained in Iran until her death on July 24, 1995.
Contrary to what was so often claimed, especially by the Islamic Republic, Reza Shah was not an atheist. Deeply religious, he was not, however, a practicing clergyman. However, his bad relations with the clergy have largely influenced the impression he left on the clergy, which the official Iranian history since 1979 has frankly blackened.
However, relations had started well; the clergy, at the time when Reza Khan was planning to proclaim the republic, had mobilized to make him change his mind and propose to him to found a new dynasty, as had often been the case in Persian history. Reza Khan became king, they thought they had succeeded in avoiding a certain loss of power through a secularization of society, which was announced with the creation of a republic too modeled on that of Atatürk, for whom Reza did not hide his admiration. However, the sequence of events proved that he had not changed his perspective on the use of his power. But the deterioration of their relations went crescendo:
The first incident took place during the state visit of the Afghanisthan king, Amanullah Khan, to Persia in early 1929. Queen Soraya Tarzi, who was not used to wearing a veil, walked around Tehran bareheaded during an official visit. The ecclesiastics, among the officials, were shocked by these practices, and especially by the non-reaction of the emperor. The many warning signs of kashf-e Hijab appearing, such as the claims of feminist organizations and their reception by Princess Chams, making the clerics doubt their attachment to Reza Shah.
Secondly, the reform of judicial, societal and state institutions with the Davar ministry takes away a very important power from the religious. Not that they have necessarily corrupted a system from which they were relieved, but this loss of power frustrates them and probably frightens them; how far will it go? Some clerics are also important landowners, and they are also annoyed by Reza Shah”s anti-tribal and anti-feudal policies.
If the laws on male dress codes did not matter to them, the announcement of the abolition of the veil for all women in public triggered many reactions, the most famous being the Goharshad uprising. After the Graduation Ceremony of the Preliminary Schools on January 8, 1936, the break is official with the clergy. If free will regarding the veil would have been tolerated by the clerics, the outright ban made them real enemies of power. But in retrospect, all the religious moderates accepting these changes were systematically denigrated by the Islamic Republic, as well as all the clerics who did not oppose the Pahlavis, such as Ayatollah Shariat-Madiari, who dialogued with the government during the Islamic revolution.
After the fall of Reza Shah, whether before or after his son”s fall, the clerics generally hide behind criticism of his authoritarianism to actually criticize his religious policies.
Nevertheless, there was not an eternal confrontation between Reza Shah and the clergy: Reza, who gave his children Shiite Islamic names, had supporters among the clergy, such as the great Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Haeri Yazdi, an apolitical man who nevertheless had Rouhollah Khomeyni among his students. There were other clerics, too, like Ayatollah Mohammad Sanglaj Shariati (fa). The latter spoke of the “incompatibility of (current) Islam with modernity” and his religious theses have a very “progressive” vision. Similarly, in the Parliament, if there are few members of the clergy, there are some; religious people wishing to work in the public service must however dress “in the West”, being then citizens like the others. Education was very much linked to religion, even though all religious aspects taught in schools were carefully controlled by the government so that they did not conflict with imperial policy.
The imperial government also finances religious schools, and the maintenance of all places related to worship, such as the Hosseiniyeh. The “supporters” of Reza Chah in Najaf, a high place of Shiism, are also an important support: of course, Abdul-Karim Haeri Yazdi, whose figure is very respected, but who was very much concerned with the institutional side of Islam, but also, even more respected, Sheikh Mohammad Hassan Naini, a figure who is one of the theorists of the role of the clergy in the Constitutional Revolution, and who is a great supporter of Reza Chah. There are also lesser clerics, Sufis, and some poets. But in spite of the great figures, the number of pro-government clerics remained very small during Reza Shah”s time, as the clergy did not support him on all the reforms, designated after 1979 as “heretical”, mentioned above.
Point generally mentioned by his detractors: Reza Shah would have accumulated throughout his reign a colossal fortune: about 15 million dollars in 1941, due to significant spoliations of properties, about 1.5 million hectares of land in the territories around the Caspian Sea. Reza Shah became the richest man in the country, if not the richest in the Middle East. Depending on the source, the amount of land varies from a part of Mazandaran to the whole of the lands bordering the Caspian Sea. Massoud Behnoud estimates the total amount of these assets at $200 million, including land. It should not be forgotten that in addition to the income from the Mazandaran land, Reza received the income from the Crown, i.e. his salary as head of state and a civil list.
In fact, all the buzz about these allegations has its own history: these rumors were circulating during Reza Shah”s time, when the press and most organizations were tightly controlled. Picked up by the BBC at the time of Operation Countenance, they had been greatly amplified by the BBC”s anti-Reza Shah propaganda. Providing so many details, the Iranian population, which followed the BBC to learn about the advance of British and Soviet troops, believed that if they had so many details about Reza Shah”s opulence, the British government must have known something about it. It was also rumored that he had many foreign accounts, between 18 and 12 million dollars in Swiss and American banks. But nothing was ever proven.
With the fall of Reza Shah, the Foroughi government embarked on a phase of liberalization; the liberated press picked up the rumor, which had become gospel truth, attacking the new power, represented by Mohammad Reza Shah, but the opacity of the situation continued, both regarding the origin and the amount of the said fortune. Worse, the fact that no one knew what happened to these millions contributed to the wildest rumors about this fortune and, by extension, about those of all the Pahlavis. This, in time, coupled with the business acumen of much of the royal family, made the idea of a massive corruption whose greatest beneficiaries were the Shah and his family, the accepted truth. In an interview with Barbara Walters, the Shah, then deposed, said that he “was not poor, but probably not richer than some Americans.
If the Parliament compensated the victims of these “extortions”, no one has found anywhere the amount of compensation, separately or all together.
During his life, Reza Shah had many titles and surnames. Indeed, before 1923, few people in Iran had a first and last name. People were generally called by allusion to their native environment: that is why Reza was first called “Reza Savad-Kouhi”. When he became a soldier and was in charge of the maintenance of Maxim machine guns, he was called “Reza Maxim”, then he received the Turkish-speaking gratification “Khan”, and when he became a senior soldier he was known as “Reza Mir-Panj”. After becoming the commander of the army and then the minister of war, he received the title of Sadar Sepah: “Reza Khan Sadar Sepah”. With the law of 1923, he opted for the patronymic Pahlavi, which recalls the clan of his father, the Pahlavan, and the Pehlevi language.
When he became emperor, he added the title Shah to his first name; although the official form of his surname is Reza Chah Pahlavi, it is usually shortened to Reza Chah.
In 1948, the Parliament awarded him the title of “the Great”; he is thus officially called, and until the Revolution, then by some members of the diaspora, Reza Chah (Pahlavi) the Great.