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The Life and Times of the Shah

The Life and Times of the Shah

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 740
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  • Book Info
    The Life and Times of the Shah
    Book Description:

    This epic biography, a gripping insider's account, is a long-overdue chronicle of the life and times of Mohammad Reza Shah, who ruled from 1941 to 1979 as the last Iranian monarch. Gholam Reza Afkhami uses his unparalleled access to a large number of individuals—including high-ranking figures in the shah's regime, members of his family, and members of the opposition—to depict the unfolding of the shah's life against the forces and events that shaped the development of modern Iran. The first major biography of the Shah in twenty-five years, this richly detailed account provides a radically new perspective on key events in Iranian history, including the 1979 revolution, U.S.-Iran relations, and Iran's nuclear program. It also sheds new light on what now drives political and cultural currents in a country at the heart of today's most perplexing geopolitical dilemmas.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94216-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)

    • 1 The Father
      (pp. 3-23)

      On a soft October evening in 1919 a young theology student walked slowly along a narrow alley in a recently built part of Tehran, not far from the city gate that opened on the road to the town of Qazvin. He was headed to a house his father, also a cleric, visited often, sometimes taking the young man along. The young cleric remembered his father and the master of the house sitting on the stone platforms in the narrow street at each side of the entrance to the house chatting about various subjects. The elder cleric was ahujjat al-Islam,...

    • 2 Father and Son
      (pp. 24-41)

      Mohammad Reza was his father’s love — the light of his eye, as the Persian saying goes. His birth eclipsed all else in the household, including his twin sister, Ashraf. “He loved him beyond measure,” she recalled many years later. “He had daughters before and prayed for a son. When God answered his prayer and gave him one, he was beside himself with joy.”¹

      Mohammad Reza was two years old in 1921 when the coup d’état occurred. Three months later the family moved to a larger house, which Reza Khan had built on land he had bought. The boy was...

    • 3 The Man
      (pp. 42-58)

      Mohammad Reza acquired many of his father’s habits, though, as we have seen, temperamentally he was his father’s opposite. Where Reza Shah was naturally aggressive, Mohammad Reza was shy and reserved even when at the apogee of power. He had been sent to military school at the age of six to learn to be tough. But, except for self-discipline, which he learned primarily from his father, not much else of military toughness stuck with him. Rumor had it that Reza Shah had once said he wished his son was more like his sister Ashraf, bold and assertive. Princess Ashraf finds...


    • 4 Ascending the Throne
      (pp. 61-85)

      In 1939, as war broke out in Europe, Russia was Iran’s main worry. Communism, a mystery to most Iranians, was generally disliked because it was “Godless,” clearly to be shunned and condemned. Its creed ran counter to Iranians’ sense of authenticity. They were vexed by the thought of communized property, and they abhorred the idea of sharing their wives and daughters, a false notion that was widely spread across the country by the clerics. They believed communism was a Russian tool of dominion and control. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact confused them, but it did little to swing their opinion in favor...

    • 5 Azerbaijan
      (pp. 86-109)

      The Allied invasion of Iran on 25 August 1941 made the preservation of Iran’s independence and territorial integrity the government’s most urgent task. Reza Shah’s letter to President Roosevelt had not produced an immediate effect; but the response it had elicited at least placed on record the United States’ assurances about the Allies’ commitment to Iran’s independence. In late July and early August, Reza Shah’s envoy in the United States, Mohammad Shayesteh, had made several visits to the Department of State and Secretary of State Cordell Hull to appeal for American help. The visits had prompted the secretary to talk...

    • 6 Nationalizing Oil
      (pp. 110-136)

      If Reza Shah was the greatest influence on his son’s attitude toward power and governance, Mohammad Mosaddeq was a close second. Reza Shah was father, Mosaddeq father figure. Reza Shah was martial, uneducated, and rough in demeanor, thinking, and politics; Mosaddeq was frail, educated, and aristocratic. Reza Shah had told his son to beware of anyone securing uncontrolled, independent political power, giving his own career as evidence; Mosaddeq inadvertently proved the truth of Reza Shah’s advice by almost deposing the son. Both men left legacies of politics and power the shah struggled to match, and residues of thought and feeling...

    • 7 Toward the Abyss
      (pp. 137-154)

      On 17 January 1952 Ambassador Shepherd sent Anthony Eden a cable informing him that he had had a long audience with the shah on 15 January, during which the shah had mostly asked him questions rather than offering opinions, and when he had offered an opinion, he had defended Mosaddeq. But he had made two substantive statements worthy of notice. First, the Allies had been wrong in forcing his father to abdicate and in invading Iran as they had, because no one knew as he did that his father was not pro-German. And second, the opposition to Mosaddeq had no...

    • 8 TPAJAX
      (pp. 155-184)

      As 1953 progressed, Mosaddeq’s problems grew worse, in a chain of interconnected events. Tension with the military increased when in February he appointed Brigadier Taqi Riahi to replace Major General Mahmud Baharmast as the army chief of staff and arrested a host of retired general officers as well as civilian politicians. In April, Mosaddeq forced the shah to dismiss Hossein Ala, his trusted court minister, and replace him with Abolqasem Amini. About the same time, Mosaddeq’s chief of police, Brigadier Mahmud Afshartus, was abducted and murdered. Several military officers were arrested in connection with the crime, and on 2 May...


    • 9 A New Vista
      (pp. 187-207)

      Never again; the shah might have mulled the thought over in his mind as he flew back to Tehran. Never again would he be so poor and vulnerable as he was in Rome. Never again would he be a plaything of another man as he had been of Mosaddeq. Never again would he forget his father’s advice: any man worth asking to help in the arduous work of making a nation will seek your place if allowed. He would not allow men to reach so high a station as to covet his or events to get so out of hand...

    • 10 The White Revolution
      (pp. 208-237)

      The shah believed in Ebtehaj, though he did not quite grasp the political implications of Ebtehaj’s position. The shah’s mind moved toward a comprehensive political framework in which economic planning was an important pillar but subordinated to the requirements of his politics. Ebtehaj, on the other hand, saw planning as the frame against which politics was to be assessed. For him, everything else was subordinate to planning. His was a “wedge approach,” said Khodadad Farmanfarmaian, the head of his economic bureau. There was the plan — and there was the rest. Everything good was in the plan and the organization...

    • 11 Women and Rights
      (pp. 238-262)

      The “woman question” in Iran was only sporadically touched on in the nineteenth century.¹ Exceptional women sometimes created ripples in the social fabric, but the ripples did not last. A woman named Tahereh Qorrat-ul-ʿAin, a priestess of sorts, appeared uncovered among men while preaching modernity—one of the audacious acts for which she was executed.² Nassereddin Shah Qajar’s mother, Mahd ʿUliya, influenced politics while her son was young but lost power once he matured. Nassereddin Shah’s daughter, Taj-us-Saltaneh, was a rare woman with an eye for truth and a temperament for inquiry. She wrote about life in the women’s quarters...

    • 12 Mastering Oil
      (pp. 263-284)

      As we have seen in chapter 9, the Consortium settlement in 1954 was a defeat for Iran. The Consortium received all the operational fields and territory previously conceded to AIOC. Iran remained totally dependent on the Consortium for extracting, refining, transporting, and marketing its oil. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) operations were initially limited to managing the small refinery in Kermanshah and the pipeline that carried oil to it from the Naft-e Shah oilfields to the west; distributing oil from the Abadan and Kermanshah refineries for domestic consumption; and administering nonbasic functions in the south. The Consortium Agreement did...

    • 13 Commander-in-Chief
      (pp. 285-316)

      On the eve of the Islamic revolution, Iran’s armed forces were composed of the Imperial Iranian Army, which included ground forces, air force, and navy; the Imperial Guard; and two national law and order organizations: the gendarmerie in rural areas and the police in urban areas. The gendarmerie and police were formally under the authority of the minister of the interior; however, functionally and structurally they followed the military’s rules and regulations concerning personnel, command, planning, weaponry, and logistics. Practically, then, they were constituent military organizations.

      At the time of the revolution, the Imperial Iranian Army was considered a formidable...

    • 14 Development and Dreams
      (pp. 317-334)

      By the early 1960s it was clear to the shah that his development vision could not be realized with the older men who in the past had managed the country’s economy and finances. Ebtehaj had been an exception, but he was a raging bull with little political acumen. In addition, the experts at the Plan Organization were too identified with the Harvard Group and, at any rate, not all of them wanted a ministerial position. As prime minister, Ali Amini had sought an economist to head his Ministry of Finance, and on the advice of Khodadad Farmanfarmaian offered the position...

    • 15 Gas, Petrochemicals, and Nuclear Energy
      (pp. 335-362)

      Iranian-Soviet relations took a turn for the worse after the Bilateral Agreement was signed between Iran and the United States on 5 March 1959. The Soviet press and radio began a protracted attack against Iran and the shah. On the day the agreement was signed, Khrushchev called the shah a weakling who was afraid of his own people. A few days before the signing, on 2 March, Iran informed the Soviet Union it did not recognize that part of the 1921 Treaty which the Soviets contended gave them the right to send troops into Iranian territory. The Soviets called the...

    • Plates
      (pp. None)

    • 16 Politics and Terror
      (pp. 365-380)

      “Teheran’s Mosque of the Shah is getting to be no refuge for Premiers of Iran,” wroteTime Magazinein its 28 November 1955 issue.

      In 1951, Premier Ali Razmara, one of Iran’s ablest men, was assassinated there by a member of the fanatic Fadaiyan Islam (Crusaders of Islam). Last week 72-year-old Hussein Ala, the ablest of Razmara’s successors as Premier, arrived at the mosque for a memorial service. Entering, he shucked his shoes, started across the carpeted floor. He was stopped by a thinly bearded man who drew a revolver and shouted: “Why are there so many prostitutes in the...

    • 17 SAVAK
      (pp. 381-403)

      The idea of a modern central intelligence agency for Iran was brought up a year or so after the fall of Mosaddeq in conversations with the Americans and the British and subsequently the Israelis. But it took several years before the idea gelled and finally became law. The Americans stationed in Iran were not initially involved. Indeed, the G2 officer in MAAG, Colonel Walker, protested to the Iranian G2 chief, Brigadier Vali Qaranei, about the Americans being left out of the establishment of a civilian security organization despite the contributions they had made to the development of Iran’s military intelligence....

    • 18 A Celebration and a Festival
      (pp. 404-422)

      The celebration of the anniversary of twenty-five hundred years of Iranian monarchy in October 1971 was meant as a tribute to Iran’s history, an affirmation of Iran’s progress under the Pahlavis, and a testimony to the shah’s achievements during his reign. Instead, the event became a rallying point for his enemies, who used the celebration’s glitter and gaudiness— glamour, to some —to launch a widespread attack on him and his policies. The same was true of the Shiraz Art Festival, designed to promote “the arts and the appreciation for traditional Iranian art forms,” to elevate “the standard of culture in...

    • 19 The Rastakhiz Party
      (pp. 423-440)

      In the early 1960s there were several attempts to organize young professionals for political activity, led by various political hopefuls, including Ali Amini and Jaʿfar Sharif-Emami, and largely inspired by the changing political climate in the United States. Of these only one, the Progressive Circle, survived. The circle was the work of Hassanali Mansur, an ambitious young man who was then secretary of the High Economic Council, and it provided the nucleus around which the Iran Novin party would form.

      The Progressive Circle had played an important role both in organizing the Congress of Free Men and Women, where the...

    • 20 The Gathering Storm
      (pp. 441-467)

      Jamshid Amouzegar was appointed prime minister on 7 August 1977. The shah had finally become convinced that the nation could not absorb the vast inflow of money, goods, and services the rising oil income had made possible and that a reining in of national expenditures had become necessary. He believed Amouzegar was the man to do the job. He had wanted to replace Hoveyda for some time, but, according to the queen, he could not bring himself to dismiss him.¹ Now, however, he could appoint Hoveyda court minister because his trusted friend Alam had had to resign the position due...

    • 21 “I Heard the Message of Your Revolution”
      (pp. 468-497)

      On 2 November 1978, at 6 p.m., President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, called to order an “urgent” meeting of the Special Coordination Committee (SCC). Ambassador William Sullivan had sent a cable from Tehran reporting that the shah had indicated he might either abdicate or go for a military government. Clearly, the political conditions in Tehran were reaching a boiling point and demanded an urgent decision. The United States, having been simultaneously engaged with the SALT talks, China, and recently the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations at Camp David, had until this point put Iran on the back burner. Sullivan had never...

    • 22 “Melting Like Snow”
      (pp. 498-522)

      By mid-November 1978 most experts at the U.S. Department of State had come to believe that the United States should be bracing for a post-shah Iran.¹ On 9 November Ambassador Sullivan had sent a message suggesting that the United States begin to “think the unthinkable.” What would the United States do if the shah was shown to be unable to rule? The cable painted an optimistic picture of a post-shah Iran: both Khomeini and the Iranian armed forces were anti-communist and anti-Soviet; the officer corps was pro-West; the clerics would likely maintain the armed forces; the military, in turn, would...


    • 23 Trek to Nowhere
      (pp. 525-544)

      As December 1978 came to a close, pressure on the royal couple became almost unbearable. The shah and the queen saw the gloom spreading across the palace in the eyes of the people who served them. The men and women working in the royal palaces were invariably religious, torn between their loyalty to the shah and their belief in the religious leaders. They lived in co-op houses built by the court ministry and were known in their neighborhoods to work in the king’s palace, an honor that in the past had brought them respect and deference. Now, the situation had...

    • 24 The Ayatollah’s Shadow
      (pp. 545-568)

      The shah and the queen arrived in the Bahamas on 30 March 1979. They were accompanied by their children; the queen’s mother; Dr. Liusa Pirnia; Colonel Kiumarth Jahanbini, in charge of security; Colonels Yazdan Nevissi, Siavush Nasseri, Hossein Hamraz, and Reza Mohammadi; Kambiz Atabai; Leila’s governess, Ms. Golrokh; and the shah’s valet, Mahmud Eliasi.¹ The group was taken by Armao and his associate Mark Morse to a place somewhat incongruously called Paradise Island, across from Nassau. “It was beautiful. Indeed, for most people the island was a paradise. For us, it was hell,” recalled Atabai.²

      The royals’ residence was a...

    • 25 Almost Bartered
      (pp. 569-592)

      On the evening of 1 December the queen was having dinner at Princess Ashraf’s when she received a call from the shah: “We are leaving tomorrow for Texas, but they have told us no one must know, not even the children.” Keeping their departure a secret proved harder than expected. The queen had made several appointments for the coming days, including one the next day for lunch with a close friend who would not take no for an answer. But all that paled compared to not telling her children.

      The shah was to go to the airport directly from the...

    • 26 Closing in a Dream
      (pp. 593-598)

      The royal couple, accompanied by the shah’s guard Colonel Jahanbini, his valet Amir Pourshoja, the American advisers Robert Armao and Mark Morse, and the queen’s friend Elli Antoniades, who was visiting when the trip to Cairo suddenly came up, left Panama on Sunday, 23 March 1980, at 1:42 p.m. local time aboard a chartered Evergreen Airline DC-8. “When we crossed the Panamanian border, we breathed easy,” recalled the queen. But she did not dare to speak her mind to Antoniades, afraid that the plane was bugged.

      The plane was not fitted for a sick man. The shah, feverish and weak,...

    (pp. 599-600)
    (pp. 601-601)
    (pp. 602-604)
    (pp. 605-606)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 607-678)
    (pp. 679-682)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 683-713)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 714-714)