Reza Shah

"Reza Khan" redirects here. For other uses, see Reza Khan (disambiguation).
"Shah Reza" redirects here. For other uses, see Shah Reza (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, his son, or Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince of Iran, his grandson.
Reza Shah Pahlavi
رضا شاه پهلوی
Shahanshah of Iran

Reza Shah Pahlavi
Shah of Iran
Reign 15 December 1925 – 16 September 1941
Coronation 24 April 1926
Predecessor Ahmad Shah Qajar
Successor Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi
Prime Minister of Iran
Term 28 October 1923 – 1 November 1925
Predecessor Hassan Pirnia
Successor Mohammad-Ali Foroughi
Monarch Ahmad Shah Qajar
Born Reza Khan
(1878-03-15)15 March 1878
Alasht, Savad Kooh, Mazandaran Province, Persia (Iran)
Died 26 July 1944(1944-07-26) (aged 66)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Burial Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine, Rey (reburied in 1979 in Cairo, Egypt)[1]
Spouse Maryam Khanum
Tajmah Khanum
Safiah Khanum
Tadj ol-Molouk (queen consort)
Qamar ol-Molouk
Esmat ol-Molouk
Issue Princess Hamdamsaltaneh
Princess Shams
Crown Prince Mohammad Reza
Princess Ashraf
Prince Ali Reza
Prince Gholam Reza
Prince Abdul Reza
Prince Ahmad Reza
Prince Mahmud Reza
Princess Fatimeh
Prince Hamid Reza[2]
Full name
Reza Shah Pahlavi
Persian: رضا شاه پهلوی
House House of Pahlavi
Father Abbas Ali Khan
Mother Noush-Afarin Ayromlou
Religion Islam
Styles of
Reza Shah of Iran
Reference style His Imperial Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Reza Shah Pahlavi (Persian: رضا شاه پهلوی; pronounced [reˈzɑː ˈʃɑːhe pæhlæˈviː]; 15 March 1878 – 26 July 1944), was the Shah of Iran (Persia) from 15 December 1925 until he was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran on 16 September 1941.[3]

Four years after conducting a coup against the pro-British government, the 1921 Persian coup d'état, in 1923 Reza Pahlavi was selected as Iran's prime minister by the National assembly of Iran. In 1925 Rezā Pahlavi was appointed as the legal monarch of Iran by decision of Iran's constituent assembly. The assembly deposed Ahmad Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty, and selected Reza Shah and Pahlavi dynasty instead, by amending the Iran's 1906 constitution. Reza Shah was the first democratically elected monarch of Iran. He founded the Pahlavi dynasty. He established a constitutional monarchy that lasted until overthrown in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Reza Shah introduced many social, economic, and political reforms during his reign, ultimately laying the foundation of the modern Iranian state.

His legacy remains controversial to this day: his defenders assert that he was an essential modernizing force for Iran (whose international prominence had sharply declined during Qajar rule), while his detractors assert that his reign was often despotic, with his failure to modernize Iran's large peasant population eventually sowing the seeds for the Iranian Revolution.[4][5] Moreover, his insistence on ethnic nationalism and cultural unitarism along with forced detribalization and sedentarization resulted in suppression of several ethnic and social groups.[6]

Early life

Rezā Khan

Rezā Shah Pahlavi was born in the village of Alasht in Savadkuh County, Māzandarān Province, in 1878, to Major Abbas Ali Khan and Noushafarin Ayromlou.[7][8] His mother was a Muslim Georgian immigrant,[9][10] whose family had emigrated to mainland Persia after Persia was forced to cede all of its territories in the Caucasus following the Russo-Persian Wars several decades prior to Reza Shah's birth.[11] His father was commissioned in the 7th Savadkuh Regiment, and served in the Anglo-Persian War in 1856.

Abbas Ali Khan died suddenly on 26 November 1878. Reza was barely 8 months old. Upon his father's death, Rezā's mother moved with Reza to her brother's house in Tehran. She remarried in 1879 and left Rezā to the care of his uncle. His uncle in turn sent Reza to a family friend, Amir Tuman Kazim Khan, an officer in the Persian army.[12] When Rezā was sixteen years old, he joined the Persian Cossack Brigade. In 1903, he is reported to have been guard and servant to the Dutch consul general Frits Knobel. Reza was 25 years old then. In 1925, Maurits Wagenvoort, a friend of Knobel, wrote:

Was the present autocrat the same person as the one I once spoke to in the Babi-circle of Hadsji Achont when he was gholam of the Netherlands' ambassador in Tehran? I remember he appeared to me most eager to learn about the Western political situation. And I shall never forget the expression of disillusion on his face when, in answer to his question, 'What? Aren't the elected people's representatives the most intelligent men of the nation?' I replied, 'Not a bit of it! Perhaps they are just a trifle above your average, everyday folk'. He continued, 'And the ministers then?' 'They are somewhat brighter. But not always.'[13]

He also served in the Iranian Army, where he gained the rank of gunnery sergeant under Qajar Prince Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma's command. In 1911, he gave a good account of himself in later campaigns and was promoted to First Lieutenant. His proficiency in handling machine guns elevated him to the rank equivalent to Captain in 1912. By 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel. [14] His record of military service eventually led him to a commission as a Brigadier General in the Persian Cossack Brigade. He was the last commanding officer of the Brigade, and the only Iranian commander in its history, succeeding to this position the Russian colonel Vsevolod Starosselsky, whom Reza Khan had helped, in 1918, take over the brigade. He was also one of the last individuals to become an officer of the Neshan-e Aqdas prior to the collapse of the Qajar dynasty in 1925.[15]

Rise to power

1921 coup

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Persia had become a battleground. In 1917, Britain used Iran as the springboard for an attack into Russia in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the Revolution. The Soviet Union responded by annexing portions of northern Persia, creating the Persian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Soviets extracted ever more humiliating concessions from the Qajar government, whose ministers Ahmad Shah was often unable to control. By 1920, the government had lost virtually all power outside its capital: British and Soviet forces exercised control over most of the Iranian mainland.

In late 1920, the Soviets in Rasht prepared to march on Tehran with "a guerrilla force of 1,500 Jangalis, Kurds, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis", reinforced by the Soviet Red Army. This, along with various other unrest in the country, created "an acute political crisis in the capital."[16]

On 14 January 1921, the British General Ironside chose to promote Reza Khan, who had been leading the Tabriz battalion, to lead the entire brigade.[17] About a month later, under British direction, Reza Khan led his 3,000-4,000 strong detachment of the Cossack Brigade based in Niyarak, Qazvin and Hamadan to Tehran and seized the capital. He forced the dissolution of the previous government and demanded that Seyyed Zia'eddin Tabatabaee be appointed Prime Minister.[18] Reza Khan's first role in the new government was as Commander of the Iranian Army, which he combined with the post of Minister of War. He took the title Sardar Sepah (Persian: سردار سپاه), or Commander-in-Chief of the Army, by which he was known until he became Shah. While Reza Khan and his Cossack brigade secured Tehran, the Persian envoy in Moscow negotiated a treaty with the Bolsheviks for the removal of Soviet troops from Persia. Article IV of the Russo-Persian Treaty of Friendship allowed the Soviets to invade and occupy Persia, should they believe foreign troops were using it as a staging area for an invasion of Soviet territory. As Soviets interpreted the treaty, they could invade should events in Persia prove threatening to Soviet national security. This treaty would cause enormous tension between the two nations until the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran.

The coup d'état of 1921 was partially assisted by the British government, which wished to halt the Bolsheviks' penetration of Iran, particularly because of the threat it posed to the British possessions in India. It is thought that British provided "ammunition, supplies and pay" for Reza's troops. On 8 June 1932, a British Embassy report states that the British were interested in helping Reza Shah create a centralizing power.[19] The commander of the British Forces in Iran, General Edmund Ironside, gave a situation report to the British War Office saying that a capable Persian officer was in command of the Cossacks and this "would solve many difficulties and enable us to depart in peace and honour."[20][21][22][23]

Reza Khan spent the rest of 1921 securing Iran's interior, responding to a number of revolts that erupted against the new government.[24] Among the greatest threats to the new administration were the Persian Soviet Socialist Republic, which had been established in Gilan, and the Kurds of Khorasan.[25]

Overthrow of the Qajar dynasty

Coronation of Reza Shah
Military parade in Tehran on the occasion of the coronation of Reza Shah, 1926

By 1923, Reza Khan had largely succeeded in securing Iran's interior from any remaining domestic and foreign threats. Upon his return to the capital he was appointed Prime Minister, which prompted Ahmad Shah to leave Iran for Europe, where he would remain (at first voluntarily, and later in exile) until his death.[26] It induced the Parliament to grant Reza Khan dictatorial powers, who in turn assumed the symbolic and honorific styles of Janab-i-Ashraf (His Serene Highness) and Hazrat-i-Ashraf on 28 October 1923. He quickly established a political cabinet in Tehran to help organize his plans for modernization and reform.[27] By October 1925, he succeeded in pressuring the Majlis to depose and formally exile Ahmad Shah, and instate him as the next Shah of Iran. Initially, he had planned to declare the country a republic, as his contemporary Kemal Atatürk had done in Turkey, but abandoned the idea in the face of clerical opposition.[28]

The Majlis, convening as a Constituent Assembly, declared him the Shah (King) of Iran on 12 December 1925, pursuant to the Constitution of Iran.[29] Three days later, on 15 December, he took his imperial oath and thus became the first shah of the Pahlavi dynasty. At this time he was 47 years old. Reza Shah's coronation took place much later, on 25 April 1926. It was at that time that his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was proclaimed the Crown Prince of Persia  to rule after his father.[30]

Rule as Shah

While the Shah left behind no major thesis, or speeches giving an overarching policy, his reforms indicated a striving for an Iran which—according to scholar Ervand Abrahamian—would be "free of clerical influence, nomadic uprisings, and ethnic differences", on the one hand, and on the other hand would contain "European-style educational institutions, Westernized women active outside the home, and modern economic structures with state factories, communication networks, investment banks, and department stores."[31]

500 Rials Iranian Reza Shah-depicted banknote

Reza is said to have avoided political participation and consultation with politicians or political personalities, instead embracing the slogan "every country has its own ruling system and ours is a one man system." He is also said to have preferred punishment to reward in dealing with subordinates or citizens.[32]

Reza Shah's reign has been said to have consisted of "two distinct periods". From 1925 to 1933, figures such as Abdolhossein Teymourtash, Nosrat ol Dowleh Firouz, and Ali Akbar Davar and many other western-educated Iranians emerged to implement modernist plans, such as the construction of railways, a modern judiciary and educational system, and the imposition of changes in traditional attire, and traditional and religious customs and mores. In the second half of his reign (1933–41), which the Shah described as "one-man rule", strong personalities like Davar and Teymourtash were gotten rid of, and secularist and Western policies and plans initiated earlier were implemented.[33]


Reza Shah at the opening ceremony of the University of Tehran's Faculty of Medicine.

During Reza Shah's sixteen years of rule, major developments, such as large road construction projects and the Trans-Iranian Railway were built, modern education was introduced and the University of Tehran was established.[34] The government sponsored European educations for many Iranian students.[35] The number of modern industrial plants increased 17-fold under Reza Shah (excluding oil installations), and the number of miles of highway increased from 2,000 to 14,000.[36]

Along with the modernization of the nation, Reza Shah was the ruler during the time of the Women's Awakening (1936–1941). This movement sought the elimination of the chador from Iranian working society. Supporters held that the veil impeded physical exercise and the ability of women to enter society and contribute to the progress of the nation. This move met opposition from the religious establishment. In one instance in 1935 Reza Shah ordered his soldiers to shoot at a crowd of unarmed demonstrators who were peacefully protesting against obligatory Western dress in Mashhad.[37] The unveiling issue and the Women's Awakening are linked to the Marriage Law of 1931 and the Second Congress of Eastern Women in Tehran in 1932.

Military commanders of the Iranian armed forces, government officials and their wives commemorating the abolition of the chadors. (1936)

Reza Shah was the first Iranian Monarch in 1400 years who paid respect to the Jews by praying in the synagogue when visiting the Jewish community of Isfahan; an act that boosted the self-esteem of the Iranian Jews and made Reza Shah their second most respected Iranian leader after Cyrus the Great. Reza Shah's reforms opened new occupations to Jews and allowed them to leave the ghetto.[38] This point of view, however, may be refuted by the claims that the anti-Jewish incidents of September 1922 in parts of Tehran was a plot by Reza Khan.[39]

He forbade photographing aspects of Iran he considered backwards such as camels, and he banned clerical dress and chadors in favor of Western dress.[40]

Parliament and ministers

Formal portrait of Reza Shah

Parliamentary elections during the Shah's reign were not democratic.[41] The general practice was to "draw up, with the help of the police chief, a list of parliamentary candidates for the interior minister. The interior minister then passed the same names onto the provincial governor-general. ... [who] handed down the list to the supervisory electoral councils that were packed by the Interior Ministry to oversee the ballots. Parliament ceased to be a meaningful institution, and instead became a decorative garb covering the nakedness of military rule."[42]

Reza Shah discredited and eliminated a number of his ministers. His minister of Imperial Court, Abdolhossein Teymourtash, was accused and convicted of corruption, bribery, misuse of foreign currency regulations, and plans to overthrow the Shah. He was removed as the minister of court in 1932 and died under suspicious circumstances while in prison in September 1933. The minister of finance, Prince Nosrat-od-Dowleh Firouz Mirza who played an important role in the first three years of his reign was convicted on similar charges in May 1930 and also died in prison in January 1938. Ali-Akbar Davar, his minister of justice, was suspected of similar charges and committed suicide in February 1937. The elimination of these ministers "deprived" Iran "of her most dynamic figures... and the burden of government fell heavily on Reza Shah" according to historian Cyrus Ghani[43][44]

Replacement of Persia with Iran

In the Western world, Persia (or its cognates) was historically the common name for Iran. In 1935, Reza Shah asked foreign delegates and League of Nations to use the term Iran, the historical name of the country, used by its native people, in formal correspondence. Since then, in the Western World, the use of the word "Iran" has become more common. This also changed the usage of the names for the Iranian nationality, and the common adjective for citizens of Iran changed from Persian to Iranian. In 1959, the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Reza Shah Pahlavi's son, announced that both "Persia" and "Iran" could officially be used interchangeably. Persian is the name of one of the ethnic groups of Iran, Persia (locally known as Pars) is the name of one of Iran's significant cultural provinces and the Persian language[45] Although (internally) the country had been referred to as Iran throughout much of its history, many countries including the English-speaking world knew the country as Persia, a legacy of the Greeks who referred to the entire country after the province of Pars (Pars).[46] While Persians are only one of several ethnic groups in Iran, their home province Pars (Fārs) was a center of political power in ancient times under the Achaemenid Empire and Sassanid Empire as well as other Iranian dynasties, hence the somewhat misleading usage of the name Persia (in other countries) up to 1935 when referring to Iran as a whole.

Support and opposition

Support for the Shah came principally from three sources. The central "pillar" was the military, where the shah had begun his career. The annual defense budget of Iran "increased more than fivefold from 1926 to 1941." Officers were paid more than other salaried employees. The new modern and expanded state bureaucracy of Iran was another source of support. Its ten civilian ministries employed 90,000 full-time government workers.[47] Patronage controlled by the Shah's royal court served as the third "pillar". This was financed by the Shah's considerable personal wealth which had been built up by forced sales and confiscations of estates, making him "the richest man in Iran". On his abdication Reza Shah "left to his heir a bank account of some three million pounds sterling and estates totaling over 3 million acres."[48]

Opposition to the Shah came not so much from the landed upper class as from "the tribes, the clergy, and the young generation of the new intelligentsia. The tribes bore the brunt of the new order."[49]

Clash with the clergy

As his reign became more secure, Reza Shah clashed with Iran's clergy and devout Muslims on many issues. In March 1928, he violated the sanctuary of Qom's Fatima al-Masumeh Shrine to beat a cleric who had angrily admonished Reza Shah's wife for temporarily exposing her face a day earlier while on pilgrimage to Qom.[50] In December of that year he instituted a law requiring everyone (except Shia jurisconsults who had passed a special qualifying examination) to wear Western clothes.[51] This angered devout Muslims because it included a hat with a brim which prevented the devout from touching their foreheads on the ground during salat as required by Islamic law.[52] The Shah also encouraged women to discard hijab. He announced that female teachers could no longer come to school with head coverings. One of his daughters reviewed a girls' athletic event with an uncovered head.[52]

The devout were also angered by policies that allowed mixing of the sexes. Women were allowed to study in the colleges of law and medicine,[53] and in 1934 a law set heavy fines for cinemas, restaurant, and hotels that did not open their doors to both sexes.[54] Doctors were permitted to dissect human bodies. He restricted public mourning observances to one day and required mosques to use chairs instead of the traditional sitting on the floors of mosques.[55]

By the mid-1930s, Reza Shah's rule had caused intense dissatisfaction to the Shi'a clergy throughout Iran.[56] In 1935, a backlash erupted in the Mashed shrine. Responding to a cleric who denounced the Shah's "heretical" innovations, corruption and heavy consumer taxes, many bazaaris and villagers took refuge in the shrine, chanting slogans such as "The Shah is a new Yezid." For four full days local police and army refused to violate the shrine. The standoff was ended when troops from Iranian Azerbaijan arrived and broke into the shrine,[57] killing dozens and injuring hundreds, and marking a final rupture between Shi'ite clergy and the Shah.[58] Some of the Mashed clergy even left their jobs, such as the Keeper of the Keys of the shrine Hassan Mazloumi, later named Barjesteh, who stated he did not want to listen to the orders of a dog.[59]

The Shah intensified his controversial changes following the incident, banning the chador and ordering all citizens – rich and poor – to bring their wives to public functions without head coverings.[60]

Foreign affairs and influence

Reza Shah with president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk of Turkey
Signed Photograph of Adolf Hitler for Reza Shah Pahlavi in Original Frame with the Swastika and Adolf Hitler's (AH) Sign – Sahebgharanie Palace Niavaran Palace Complex. The text below the photograph: His Imperial Majesty – Reza Shah Pahlavi – Shahanshah of Iran – With the Best Wishes – Berlin, 12 March 1936 – The signature of Adolf Hitler

Reza Shah initiated change in foreign affairs as well. The Shah worked to balance British influence with other foreigners and generally to diminish foreign influence in Iran.

One of the first acts of the new government after the 1921 entrance into Teheran was to tear up the treaty with the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks condemned the aggressive foreign policy of Imperial Russia, promised never to interfere in Persia's internal affairs, but reserved the right to occupy it temporarily in the event another power used Persia for an attack on Soviet Russia.

Reza Shah met with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and spoke in Azeri Turkish with him and Atatürk spoke in Istanbul Turkish.[61][62][63][64][65] in 1934.[66]

In 1931, he refused to allow Imperial Airways to fly in Persian airspace, instead giving the concession to German-owned Lufthansa Airlines. The next year, 1932, he surprised the British by unilaterally canceling the oil concession awarded to William Knox D'Arcy (and then called Anglo-Persian Oil Company), which was slated to expire in 1961. The concession granted Persia 16% of the net profits from APOC oil operations. The Shah wanted 21%. The British took the dispute before the League of Nations. However, before a decision was made by the League, the company and Iran compromised and a new concession was signed on 26 April 1933.[67]

He previously hired American consultants to develop and implement Western-style financial and administrative systems. Among them was U.S. economist Arthur Millspaugh, who acted as the nation's finance minister. Reza Shah also purchased ships from Italy and hired Italians to teach his troops the intricacies of naval warfare. He also imported hundreds of German technicians and advisors for various projects. Mindful of Persia's long period of subservience to British and Russian authority, Reza Shah was careful to avoid giving any one foreign nation too much control. He also insisted that foreign advisors be employed by the Persian government, so that they would not be answerable to foreign powers. This was based upon his experience with Anglo-Persian, which was owned and operated by the British government.

In his campaign against foreign influence, he annulled the 19th-century capitulations to Europeans in 1928. Under these, Europeans in Iran had enjoyed the privilege of being subject to their own consular courts rather than to the Iranian judiciary. The right to print money was moved from the British Imperial Bank to his National Bank of Iran (Bank-i Melli Iran), as was the administration of the telegraph system, from the Indo-European Telegraph Company to the Iranian government, in addition to the collection of customs by Belgian officials. He eventually fired Millspaugh, and prohibited foreigners from administering schools, owning land or traveling in the provinces without police permission.[68]

Not all observers agree that the Shah minimized foreign influence. One complaint about his development program was that the north-south railway line he had built was uneconomical, only serving the British, who had a military presence in the south of Iran and desired the ability to transfer their troops north to Russia, as part of their strategic defence plan. In contrast, the Shah's regime did not develop what critics believe was an economically justifiable east-west railway system.[69]

On 21 March 1935, he issued a decree asking foreign delegates to use the term Iran in formal correspondence, in accordance with the fact that Persia was a term used for a country identified as Iran in the Persian language. It was, however, attributed more to the Iranian people than others, particularly the language. Opponents claimed that this act brought cultural damage to the country and separated Iran from its past in the West (see Iran naming dispute). The name Iran means "Land of the Aryans".

Tired of the opportunistic policies of both Britain and the Soviet Union, the Shah circumscribed contacts with foreign embassies. Relations with the Soviet Union had already deteriorated because of that country's commercial policies, which in the 1920s and 1930s adversely affected Iran. In 1932 the Shah offended Britain by canceling the agreement under which the Anglo-Persian Oil Company produced and exported Iran's oil. Although a new and improved agreement was eventually signed, it did not satisfy Iran's demands and left bad feeling on both sides.

To counterbalance British and Soviet influence, Reza Shah encouraged German commercial enterprise in Iran. On the eve of World War II, Germany was Iran's largest trading partner.[70] The Germans agreed to sell the Shah the steel factory he coveted and considered a sine qua non of progress and modernity. His foreign policy, which had consisted essentially of playing the Soviet Union off against Great Britain, failed when those two powers joined in 1941 to fight the Germans. To supply the Soviet forces with war material through Iran, the two allies jointly occupied the country in August 1941.[71]

Later years of reign

The Shah's reign is sometimes divided into periods. During the first period, which lasted from 1925–1932, the country benefited greatly from the contributions of many of the country's best and brightest, to whom should accrue the credit for laying the foundations of modern Iran. All the worthwhile efforts of Reza Shah's reign were either completed or conceived in the 1925–1938 period, a period during which he required the assistance of reformists to gain the requisite legitimacy to consolidate this modern reign. In particular, Abdolhossein Teymourtash assisted by Farman Farma, Davar and a large number of modern educated Iranians, proved adept at masterminding the implementation of many reforms demanded since the failed constitutional revolution of 1905–1911. The preservation and promotion of the country's historic heritage, the provision of public education, construction of a national railway, abolition of capitulation agreements, and the establishment of a national bank had all been advocated by intellectuals since the tumult of the constitutional revolution.

The later years of his reign were dedicated to institutionalizing the educational system of Iran and also to the industrialization of the country. He knew that the system of the constitutional monarchy in Iran after him had to stand on a solid basis of the collective participation of all Iranians, and that it was indispensable to create educational centers all over Iran.

Shah tried to create a confederation of Iran's neighbors, in particular Turkey and the Middle Eastern countries. Unfortunately, with the death of Kemal Atatürk and the start of the Second World War these projects were left unfinished.[72]

The parliament assented to his decrees,[73] the free press was suppressed, and the swift incarceration of political leaders like Mossadegh, the murder of others such as Teymourtash, Sardar Asad, Firouz, Modarres, Arbab Keikhosro and the suicide of Davar, ensured that any progress was stillborn and the formation of a democratic process unattainable. Shah treated the urban middle class, the managers, and technocrats with an iron fist; as a result his state-owned industries remained unproductive and inefficient.[74] The bureaucracy fell apart, since officials preferred sycophancy, when anyone could be whisked away to prison for even the whiff of disobeying his whims.[75] He confiscated land from the Qajars and from his rivals and into his own estates. The corruption continued under his rule and even became institutionalized. Progress toward modernization was spotty and isolated.[76] He became totally dependent on his military force and the army, which in return regularly received up to 50 percent of the public revenue to guarantee its loyalty.[75]

Although the landed upper class lost its influence during his reign, his new regime aroused opposition not from the gentry but mainly from Iranian "tribes, the clergy, and the young generation of the new intelligentsia. The tribes bore the brunt of the new order."[77]

World War II and forced abdication

Reza Shah in exile.

In August 1941, the Allied powers Great Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran by a massive air, land, and naval assault.

The Shah received with disbelief, as a personal humiliation and defeat, the news that fifteen Iranian divisions had surrendered without much resistance. Some of his troops dispersed and went home, while others were locked up in their barracks by the Allies.

The British left the Shah a face-saving way out:[78]

Would His Highness kindly abdicate in favour of his son, the heir to the throne? We have a high opinion of him and will ensure his position. But His Highness should not think there is any other solution.

The Anglo-Soviet invasion was instigated in response to Reza Shah's declaration of Neutrality in World War II and refusal to allow Iranian territory to be used to train, supply, and act as a transport corridor to ship arms to Russia for its war effort against Germany. Reza Shah further refused the Allies' requests to expel German nationals residing in Iran, and denied the use of the railway to the Allies. However, according to the British embassy reports from Tehran in 1940, the total number of German citizens in Iran – from technicians to spies – was no more than a thousand.[79]

Because of its importance in the allied victory, Iran was subsequently called "The Bridge of Victory" by Winston Churchill.[80]

Reza Shah was forced by the invading British to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who replaced his father as Shah on the throne on 16 September 1941.

Critics and defenders

Reza Shah's main critics were the so-called "new intelligensia", often educated in Europe, for whom the Shah "was not a state-builder[81] but an 'oriental despot' ... not a reformer but a plutocrat strengthening the landed upper class; not a real nationalist but a jack-booted Cossack trained by the Tsarists and brought to power by British imperialists."[82] His defenders included Ahmad Kasravi, a contemporary intellectual and historian of constitutional movement, who had strongly criticized participation of Reza Shah in the 1909 siege of Tabriz.[83] When he accepted the unpleasant responsibility of acting as defense attorney for a group of officers accused of torturing political prisoners, he stated; "Our young intellectuals cannot possibly understand and cannot judge the reign of Reza Shah. They cannot because they were too young to remember the chaotic and desperate conditions out of which arose the autocrat named Reza Shah."[84][85]

In his 1962 book, World War In Iran, Clarmont Skrine, a British civil servant who accompanied Reza Shah on his 1941 journey to Mauritius, shows how much Britain benefitted from Reza's rule when he writes: "Reza Shah Pahlavi, posthumously entitled 'The Great' in the annals of his country was indeed, if not the greatest, at any rate one of the strongest and ablest men Iran has produced in all the two and a half milleniums of her history".[86]


Like his son after him, his life in exile was short. After Great Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran on 25 August 1941, the British offered to keep his family in power if Reza Shah agreed to a life of exile. Reza Shah abdicated and the British forces quickly took him and his children to Mauritius,[87] then to Durban, thence Johannesburg, South Africa, where according to his British captors, he died on 26 July 1944 of a heart ailment about which he had been complaining for many years. His personal doctor had boosted the King's morale in exile by telling him that he was suffering from chronic indigestion and not heart ailment. He lived on a diet of plain rice and boiled chicken in the last years of his life.[1] He was sixty-six years old at the time of his death.

After his death, his body was carried to Egypt, where it was embalmed and kept at the royal Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo, (also the future burial place of his son, the exiled Mohammad Reza Pahlavi).[1] In May 1950, the remains were flown back to Iran,[88] where the embalming was removed, and buried in a mausoleum built in his honor in the town of Ray, in the southern suburbs of the capital, Tehran. Satellite map The Iranian parliament (Majlis) later designated the title "the Great" to be added to his name. On 14 January 1979, shortly before the Iranian Revolution, the remains were moved back to Egypt and buried in the Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo.[1] However, in a recent documentary "From Tehran to Cairo," Farah Pahlavi claimed that the remains of the late Reza Khan remain in the town of Rey.

Following the Revolution in 1979, Reza Shah's mausoleum was destroyed by the newly formed Islamic state, at the direction of Sadeq Khalkhali, which was sanctioned by Ruhollah Khomeini. Many other historical sites were destroyed shortly thereafter.[89]


Reza Shah's major achievements included:

In popular culture

Mohsen Namjoo, Iranian singer-songwriter has a song in his 7th album, "Trust the Tangerine Peel" named "Reza Khan" which criticizes Reza Shah's behaviors and harsh actions.[93]


Reza Shah married his first wife in 1894 when he was 16 years old. Her name was Maryam Khanum. She died in 1904 when Reza was 26 years old. They had one daughter:

In 1903 (divorced 1904), Reza Shah married Tajmah Khanum (died 1912), a lady from Hamadam, without issue.

In 1913 (divorced 1913), Reza Shah married Safiah Khanum, without issue.

Reza Shah's fourth wife was Tadj ol-Molouk (1896–1982),[94][95] by whom he had four children:

In 1922 (divorced 1923), Reza Shah married Turan (Qamar al Molk) Amir Soleimani (1904–1995), by whom he had one son:[96]

Reza Shah's last wife was Esmat Dowlatshahi (1904–1995), by whom he had five children:

List of Prime Ministers

Awards and decorations


Foreign honours

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Historical Iranian Sites and People. 12 December 2010
  2. Hamid Reza Orlando Sentinel, 15 July 1992
  3. "Reza Shah Pahlavi (shah of Iran): Introduction". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  4. Abrahamian, History of Modern Iran, (2008), p.91
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External links

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Reza Shah
Born: 15 March 1878 Died: 26 July 1944
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ahmad Shah Qajar
Shahanshah of Iran
15 December 1925 – 16 September 1941
Succeeded by
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Political offices
Preceded by
Hassan Pirnia
Prime Minister of Iran
28 October 1923 – 1 November 1925
Succeeded by
Mohammad-Ali Foroughi
Military offices
Preceded by
Colonel Starosselsky
Commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade
Succeeded by
Office vacant
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Ahmad Shah Qajar
Shahanshah of Iran
16 September 1941 – 26 July 1944
Reason for succession failure:
Anglo-Soviet invasion
Succeeded by
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

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