Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister of the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, was born in Iran in 1919, when patriarchal norms and traditional values still dominated all aspects of Iranian polity and society. She grew up to love and admire her twin brother and in turn received his affection and unwavering support. She was ever kind and generous to her friends, respected her aides and went out of her way to help them in time of need. She was known for her sharp mind, modesty, and unsparing straight talk. Daring and often defiant, she would not fathom failure; rather, she sought and drew on all talents available to achieve her goal. She welcomed friends’ constructive criticism and dismissed enemies’ ill willed spite.
Princess Ashraf devoted a significant part of her life to promoting the rights and freedoms of Iranian women and helping to improve the living standards of the downtrodden. As the honorary president of the Women’s Organization of Iran (WOI), she played an active role in promoting the organization’s educational, cultural, legal and political objectives. Her support helped enable WOI to mobilize Iranian women, who in turn sought and achieved significant rights and freedoms that enabled them increasingly to participate in their country’s political, social and economic affairs. On the eve of the Islamic revolution, the rights and freedoms gained by Iranian women had no equal in the Muslim majority countries in the world. WOI’s lasting impact is evidenced by the courageous struggle of Iranian women over the decades of Islamist rule to regain the rights and freedoms that were so cruelly wrested from them by the Islamic regime.
In her travels to different parts of Iran in early 1940s, the young Princess was deeply touched by the extent of poverty and deprivation she witnessed in Iran’s villages and urban ghettos. Assisted by several of her friends she founded the Imperial Organization for Social Services, an institution that provided essential welfare and social services for improving the life of the vulnerable members of society.
In 1964, at her brother’s recommendation to the General Assembly of the United Nations, UNESCO declared 1965-1975 the World Literacy Campaign Decade. In Iran, the Shah spearheaded the establishment of the Iran National Committee for World Literacy Program with himself as the honorary chair and the Princess as honorary vice-chair. As the Committee’s honorary vice chair, Princess Ashraf worked hard for the success of the campaign across the country. With her help, by the second half of the 1970s that campaign had developed in a national program of life-lone non-forma education.
Princess Ashraf also played a vital role, both in Iran and the United Nations, for the promotion of human rights. She was elected chair of the First World Conference on Human Rights, which was held in Tehran in 1968. While Western governments wanted the Conference to concentrate solely on political issues, Princess Ashraf, following her brother’s recommendations and cognizant of Third World representatives’ preference, succeeded in persuading the Western representatives in the Conference to agree to the inclusion in the final platform that economic, social and cultural issues are essential to any meaningful and realistic consideration of human rights on a global scale. It was in recognition of her many services in the cause of human rights and social welfare that in 1969 Brandeis University granted her, along with Coretta King, an honorary doctorate degree.
Princess Ashraf Pahlavi played a major role in the expansion of Iran’s friendly relations with powerful members of the international community. She rarely missed an opportunity to familiarize the international community with Iran’s plans and projects for social and economic development. She made a point of meeting with influential political leaders in the world, including the United Nations’ secretary generals and chairs of various organs and committees. She was an active representative of Iran at the United Nations for sixteen consecutive years, first as member and leader of Iran’s delegation to the General Assembly, then as Iran’s representative to the Social and Economic Council, chair of the Human Rights Commission and the Commission on the Status of Women, and as a member of the International Consultative Liaison Committee for Literacy.
Following the establishment of the Islamic republic in Iran, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, along with millions of her compatriots, was forced to leave her beloved birthplace. She carried with her the love of Iran and the plight of its oppressed people. In exile, she continued to help as many of Iranians in diaspora as she could. She also tried desperately to help free her beloved Iran from the yoke of a government bent on denying the Iranian people their natural rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, she suffered deeply from the passing away of her beloved brother, grieved over the assassination of her courageous and exceptional son, Shahriar Shafiq, and the untimely death of her brave and freedom loving daughter, Azadeh. Nevertheless, she became even more resolute to promote the cause of Iran’s liberation. At the same time, deeply concerned about the Islamic regime’s ceaseless attempts to destroy the vestiges of Iran’s ancient civilization and undermine and belittle its distinct cultural identity, she assisted any group or association that tried to preserve, present and promote Iran’s invaluable cultural, educational, and scientific heritage. It was her generous help and support that made possible the establishment of the Foundation for Iranian Studies; an organization that has become on the strength and quality of its publications, programs and conferences, the most credible and influential independent institution in the field of Iranian studies. She also helped establish the Kayhan Newspaper in London, a weekly paper that was instrumental in keeping Iranians abroad in touch and abreast of what was passing in their home country.
Princess Ashraf Pahlavi was without peer in her love for Iran and in her courage to stand up against Iran’s greatest foe ever. Alas, she did not get her wish to be a witness to Iran’s inevitable liberation.
H.I.H Princess Ashraf Pahlavi
Born, October 27, 1919 passed away peacefully in her sleep on 7 January 2016 (aged 97).
Iran, (Persia) Tehran
1st Spouse Ali Mohamed Qavam Born 5 November 1921 (Married from. 1939–1948) Died 2 July 2013 (aged 91)
Shahriar Qavam Born 27 October 1940
2nd Spouse Ahmad Shafigh of Egypt son of Shafigh Pasha Born 5 November 1921 (Married from. 1939–1948) Died 2 July 2013 (aged 91)
Azadeh Shafigh Born 27 October 1940 – 2 July 2013
Shahriar Shafigh Born 27 March 1970 – Assassinated in Paris (10 June 2001)
3rd Spouse Mehdi Bushehri Born 5 November 1921 (Married from. 1939–1948) Died 2 July 2013 (aged 91)