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Twin sister of the last Shah of Iran dies at 96

Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister of the last Shah of Iran, died last Thursday at the age of 96. She was born in Tehran on 26 October 1919 five hours after her brother Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Her parents were Reza Pahlavi, who rose from military commander to Shah of Iran and Tadj ol-Molouk, who was the second of four total wives. She had a total of 10 siblings and half-siblings.

She was one of the first significant women in Iran to stop wearing the tradition veil in 1934, alongside her mother and her older sister Princess Shams. Despite this modern start, she was not allowed to go university and was, by her own account, forced into marriage at the age of 18 to Mirza ‘Ali Muhammed Khan Ghavam. The marriage produced one son and ended in divorce in 1943. Her second marriage Ahmed Chafik Bey in 1944 produced a son and a daughter and also ended in divorce in 1960. Her son from this marriage was assassinated outside her Paris home on 7 December 1979. He was just 34 years old. She married for a third time on 5 June 1960 to Mehdi Bushehri and this marriage remained childless.

She was a force to be reckoned with. In 1953 she played an important role in Operation Ajax, being the person to change her brother’s mind into giving consent to the CIA and SIS to actually start the operation. The operation led to the coup d’etat in Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh’s government. She was also a strong supporter of women’s right and worked with the United Nations on the subject, even addressing them in 1975. She lamented the poor conditions of the women in Iran in her post revolution memoirs.

Princess Ashraf was also the target of an assassination attempt in the summer of 1976. She was staying at her summer home on the French Riviera when fourteen bullets were fired into the side of her Rolls Royce. Her lady in waiting was killed and the driver was injured. She escaped unharmed.

Her brother was  overthrown by the Islamic Revolution on 11 February 1979 and she attempted to help her brother find asylum. He went to several countries, including the United States and Egypt before dying  from complications of Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia (a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma) on 27 July 1980 in Cairo. Her nephew Reza Pahlavi is the current head of the house of Pahlavi.

Princess Ashraf became somewhat of a nomad after the revolution and divided her time between New York, Paris and the Riviera. She was never a poor women, having inherited lands and businesses, though it has been claimed she received money from a 10% tax extorted by her family on imports, exports and government contracts.

She had no regrets, as she told the Associated Press, “I would want to do the same thing. It’s passed, now, only memories. But there were 50 years of grandeur, of glory”. 

Princess Ashraf Pahlavi died of old age in Monte Carlo and is survived by her son from her first marriage and several grandchildren.

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