Ashraf Pahlavi

Please add an image!
Birth Date:
Death date:
Princess, Public figure, Writer
Set cemetery

Princess Ashraf Pahlavi (Persian: اشرف پهلوی / Aŝraf Pahlawi, 26 October 1919 – 7 January 2016), was the twin sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran (Persia) and a member of the Pahlavi Dynasty. She mostly resided in France after 1979 revolution. Princess Ashraf was the oldest living member of her family at the time of her death. Following the Iranian Revolution, she maintained an extremely low profile and, with the exception of a memoir published in the mid-1990s, made no public appearances or granted interviews since 1981.


Ali Ghavam (m.1937-div.1942)
Ahmad Shafiq (m.1944-div.1960)
Mehdi Bushehri (m.1960-w.2016)


Shahram Pahlavi-Nia
Shahriar Shafiq
Azadeh Shafiq


In 1967, Pahlavi worked with the United Nations as the Iranian delegate to the Commission on Human Rights as well as the Economic and Social Council.

Ashraf was a strong supporter of women's rights in Iran and the world during her brother's reign. In 1975, she was heavily involved with the International Women's Year, addressing the United Nations. Though an instrumental force in legitimizing gender reforms, her philosophy on gender was not particularly introspective: "I confess that even though since childhood I had paid a price for being a woman, in terms of education and personal freedom, I had not given much thought to specific ways in which women in general were more oppressed than men." By her own account, she was a strong supporter of the rights of women to basic life necessities such as “food, education, and health” and was not a radical reformist. She cited “chronic apathy” from many governments as the underlying issue that prevented women’s rights reforms from being implemented around the world. In 1934, Princess Ashraf and her sister, Princess Shams, were two of the first Iranian women to discard the veil typically worn by women in their home country.

Despite her involvement in 1975’s International Women’s Year, Pahlavi’s women’s rights stances were called into question after the publication of her 1976 New York Times Op-Ed piece, “And Thus Passeth International Women’s Year.” In a March 1976 article in The Nation, writer Kay Boyle criticized Ashraf for her touting of International Women’s Year as succeeding in widening the global vision of sisterhood, while approximately 4,000 of the Princess’s own “sisters” were political prisoners in Iran with virtually no hope of a military trial.

In her 1980 memoirs, Pahlavi acknowledges the poor conditions of women in Iran and expresses concern, as she writes, "…the news of what was happening to Iran’s women was extremely painful…[they] were segregated and relegated to second-class status…many were imprisoned or exiled." Additionally, Pahlavi worked as an activist for human rights and equality, not only for women’s rights. She was an advocate for the international spread of literacy, especially in Iran, where her brother Mohammad Reza Shah was a major proponent of the anti-illiteracy movement. She served as a member on the International Consultative Liaison Committee for Literacy.

Ashraf was the target of a mysterious and unsuccessful assassination attempt in the summer of 1976 at her summer home on the French Riviera, during which fourteen bullets were fired into the side of her Rolls Royce. A passenger in her car was killed but Pahlavi left the scene unharmed.

After the 1979 revolution, Ashraf asked David Rockefeller to support Mohammad Reza's attempts to find asylum.

Involvement in 1953 coup against Mossadegh

In 1953, Ashraf played an important role in Operation Ajax as the one who changed Mohammad Reza Shah's mind in giving consent to the CIA and SIS to start the operation. The Shah had originally opposed the operation and for a while resisted accepting it. In early 1953, she met with CIA agents who asked her to talk to her brother since she was the only one who was able to influence him. As historian Stephen Kinzer's book All the Shah's Men recounts, "Ashraf was enjoying life in French casinos and nightclubs when one of Roosevelt's best Iranian agents, Asadollah Rashidian, paid her a call. He found her reluctant, so the next day a delegation of American and British agents came to pose the invitation in stronger terms. The leader of the delegation, a senior British operative named Norman Darbyshire, had the foresight to bring a mink coat and a packet of cash. When Ashraf saw these emoluments, Darbyshire later recalled, "her eyes lit up and her resistance crumbled." By her own account, Pahlavi was offered a blank check if she agreed to return to Iran from her exile in France, but refused the money and returned of her own accord.

Whether or not the allegations are true, some historians argue that the coup would have occurred with or without Ashraf’s persuasion of her brother. In an International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies article, writer Mark Gasiorowski states that the Shah “was not consulted about the decision to undertake the coup, about its manner of execution, or about the candidate chosen to replace Mossadegh” and that the coup was instead largely executed by the United States and others looking to undermine Mossadegh’s leadership.

Character and finance

Ashraf argued that she was “attacked for financial misconduct” because she was engaged “in the administration of various organizations”. By her own account she was of limited financial means when Mossadegh sent her into exile in Paris. However, in later years she was said to have accumulated a large fortune. She attributed her wealth to increases in the value of lands that she had inherited from her father Reza Shah. Nevertheless, it has been purported that part of the story behind the build up of her fortune may have been that during the Iranian industrial boom, which was driven by a surge in oil prices, Ashraf and her son Shahram took 10 percent or more of a new company's stock gratis in return for insuring the delivery of a license to operate, to import, to export, or to deal with the government. Government licenses were said to be given only to a few well-connected companies in each field. As a result, the need to get and keep a license became a cost that had to be met.

In 1979, The New York Times reported that a document dated 17 September 1978 from Ashraf’s office requested a transfer of $708,000 from her Iranian bank account to her account at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Geneva under the code name ‘Sapia’.

In 1980, Ashraf published an article in The New York Times, in which she came out in defense of herself and her family’s financial situation. In the article, she argued that her wealth was not accumulated through “ill-gotten gains” and attributes her fortune to inherited land, which “drastically increased in value with the development of Iran and the new prosperity that was there for all”. She notes that many other Iranians profited from the sale of their own real estate, but were not accused of financial misconduct because of close ties to the clergy and Khomeini. She also defends her brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, stating that, contrary to the claims made by some Khomeini supporters, the Shah did not profit from the Pahlavi Foundation. The Princess wrote that she planned to “fight these slanders with all my means and through whatever judicial means are available.”

Psychologically, Ashraf had low self-esteem when she was younger. She did not like “what she saw in the mirror.” She “wished for someone else’s face,…, fairer skin, and more height.” She always imagined that “there were so few people in this world shorter than I.” Perhaps this motivated her to be bold. In her memoirs she wrote:

Two decades ago French journalists named me “La Panthère Noire’ (The Black Panther), I must admit that I rather like this name, and that in some respects it suits me. Like the panther, my nature is turbulent, rebellious, self-confident. Often, it is only through strenuous effort that I maintain my reserve and my composure in public. But in truth, I sometimes wish I were armed with the panther’s claws so that I might attack the enemies of my country.

Her brother, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Mohammad Reza Shah) was her closest friend. In her memoirs, she remembers looking upon him with a sense of wonder as a child, writing, “long before we reached adulthood, his voice became the dominant one in my life.”

Some sources mention a connection between her and drug trafficking, and she herself points to this as follows:

My detractors have accused me of being a smuggler, a spy, a Mafia associate (once even a drug dealer)...

Notable positions held

  • Honorary President of Red Lion and Sun Organization, 1944
  • Chairwoman of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, 1965
  • Iranian delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 1967
  • Iranian delegate to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, 1967
  • Chairwoman of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, 1970
  • Member of the Consultative Committee of International Women's Year Conference, 1975
  • President of the Women's Organization Of Iran, 1967–1979
  • Chairwoman of the Imperial Foundation for Social Services
  • Honorary Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford
  • Member of the International Consultative Liaison Committee for Literacy

Marriages and children

Ashraf Pahlavi's first marriage was to Mirza 'Ali Muhammed Khan Ghavam, Nasir ud-Daula (born 1911). They were married in March 1937 and divorced in 1942. Ghavam was the Assistant Military Attaché in 1941 Washington DC and the eldest son of H.H. Mirza Ibrahim Khan Ghavam, Qavam ul-Mulk. She has one son from her first marriage:

  • H.H. Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahram Pahlavi-Nia (born 18 April 1940, Tehran) who married Niloufar Afshar, age 16 at time of marriage in 1966, with whom he has one son named Cyrus (born 1969). Pahlavi-Nia had another son, Amir Ebrahim (born 1974) out of wedlock with Naz Alam, a daughter of the Shah's longtime minister of court and confidante, Asadollah Alam. Shahram and Naz had Islamic marriage ceremony afterward in 1987 in US Virgin Islands.

Her second marriage was to (Sahib ul-Izza) Ahmed Chafik Bey (born 21 September 1911; who was later married a second time to Deloris Pianezzola. He died of cancer in 1976, in Tehran). They married in 1944 in Cairo and divorced in 1960. He was the director-general of Civil Aviation and fourth son of H.E. (Hazrat Sahib ul-Sa'ada) Ahmad Shafiq Pasha, the minister of the Khedivial Court of Egypt. They had one son and one daughter:

  • Captain H.H. Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahriar Mustapha Chafik (15 March 1945 - 7 December 1979) - assassinated in Paris on 7 December 1979.
  • H.H. Princess (Vala Gohari) Azadeh Pahlavi-Chafik (1951 - 2011)

Finally, she married a third time on 5 June 1960 (at the Iranian Embassy in Paris) to Mehdi Bushehri (born 1916), who is the Director of the Maison d'Iran (Iran House), Paris. They did not have any children.

In a 1980 interview with The New York Times journalist Judy Klemesrud, Pahlavi stated, “I have never been a good mother. Because of my way of life, I was not with my children very much”. Additionally, while Pahlavi was living in exile in New York City (Beekman Place), her husband Mehdi Bushehri remained in Paris and the two rarely saw each other.


Princess Ashraf Pahlavi died on 7 January 2016 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Her death was announced by imperial family's head, Reza Pahlavi II on his facebook page.

Robert F. Armao, an adviser, said the cause was “old age”. Armao said Princess Ashraf died in her sleep at home in Europe but declined to name the country, citing concern for the safety of her family.


Ashraf Pahlavi has written two books in English:

  • Faces in a Mirror: Memoirs from Exile, (1980)
  • Time for Truth, (1995)

Additionally, she has written one book in French:

  • Jamais Résignée, (1981)

Her three books were published following her 1980 The New York Times article “I Will Fight These Slanders”. In accordance with her promise to fight the “slanders” about her and her family, her books are largely concerned with clearing up what she views as misconceptions about the Pahlavi dynasty. She again addresses the questions about her personal financial situation, writing in her most widely read book, her memoir Faces in a Mirror, “I had inherited about $300,000 when my father died (and about 1 million square meters of land near the Caspian Sea, as well as properties in Gorgan and Kermanshah, which would later become extremely valuable)" In the introduction to this book, Pahlavi writes that she wants “…very much to explain to Western readers what they have failed to understand about the nature of Iran’s culture and heritage…about the nature of the so-called Islamic revolution…” Generally, her books are viewed as too autobiographical and steeped in emotion to be used as serious historical references. The Library Journal called Pahlavi’s Faces in a Mirror, “little more than a personalized homily on the Pahlavis’ virtues and the perfidy of nearly everyone else in the world.”

Before the 1979 revolution, Ashraf Pahlavi translated several books from French into Persian, including books on nursing and child care.

Titles, styles and honours


  • 28 October 1923 – 12 December 1925: Her Serene Highness Princess Ashraf Pahlavi
  • 12 December 1925 - 11 February 1979: Her Imperial Highness Princess Ashraf of Iran
  • 11 February 1979 - 7 January 2016: Her Imperial Highness Princess Ashraf Pahlavi

Honours National dynastic honours

  • House of Pahlavi: Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of Aryamehr
  • House of Pahlavi: Dame Grand Cordon of the Order of the Pleiades, 1st Class
  • House of Pahlavi: Former Grand Master Knight Grand Cordon Order of the Red Lion and the Sun

Foreign honours

  • Ethiopian Imperial Family: Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of the Queen of Sheba
  • Germany: Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic, 1st Class
  • Netherlands: Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the House of Orange
  • Soviet Union: Grand Officer of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour, 1st Class
  • United Kingdom: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
  • Honorary doctorate from the Brandeis University (1969, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA)

Source: wikipedia.org

No places


        Relation nameRelation typeBirth DateDeath dateDescription
        1Shahriar ShafiqShahriar ShafiqSon15.03.194507.12.1979
        Azadeh ShafiqDaughter00.00.195123.02.2011
        3Mohammad Reza PahlaviMohammad Reza PahlaviBrother26.10.191927.07.1980
        4Farah PahlaviFarah PahlaviSister in-law14.10.1938
        5Soraya Esfandiary-BakhtiariSoraya Esfandiary-BakhtiariSister in-law22.06.193226.10.2001
        6Begum ParaBegum ParaFamiliar25.12.192609.12.2008

        No events set