|Birth Day:||March 15, 1878|
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He joined the Persian Cossack Brigade when he was sixteen years old.
Reza Shah Pahlavi was born in the village of Alasht in Savadkuh County, Mazandaran Province, in 1878, to Major Abbas-Ali Khan and Noush-Afarin. His mother was a Muslim immigrant from Georgia (then part of the Russian Empire), whose family had emigrated to Qajar Iran when it was forced to cede all of its territories in the Caucasus following the Russo-Persian Wars several decades prior to Reza Shah's birth. His father was a Mazandarani, commissioned in the 7th Savadkuh Regiment, and served in the Anglo-Persian War in 1856. Abbas-Ali died suddenly on 26 November 1878, when Reza was barely 8 months old. Upon his father's death, Reza and his mother moved to her brother's house in Tehran. She remarried in 1879 and left Reza to the care of his uncle. In 1882, his uncle in turn sent Reza to a family friend, Amir Tuman Kazim Khan, an officer in the Persian Cossack Brigade, in whose home he had a room of his own and a chance to study with Kazim Khan's children with the tutors who came to the house. When Reza 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 Fridolin Marinus Knobel. Reza was 25 years old then.
Reza Shah married, for the first time, Maryam Savadkoohi, who was his cousin, in 1894. The marriage lasted until Maryam's death in 1904, the couple had a daughter:
Reza Shah's main critics were the so-called "new intelligensia", often educated in Europe, for whom the Shah "was not a state-builder 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." 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. 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."
He also served in the Imperial Army, where he gained the rank of gunnery sergeant under Qajar Prince Abdol-Hossein Farman Farma'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. 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 Shah had helped, in 1918, take over the brigade.
Throughout his lifetime, and even after his death, Reza Shah was addressed with variety of titles. In his youth, based on his place of origin, he was addressed as "Reza Savadkuhi". Upon joining the military, he earned the name, "Reza Maxim", due to his proficiency with using the Maxim gun. Yet, the most common name his comrades used to addressed him with was "Reza Khan". In 1911, after rising to higher ranks within the hierarchy of Iran's military, he earned the title of "Reza Mirpanj" (5 stripe), which was the equivalent of brigadier (Sartip). After the military coup of 1921, and attaining the positions of minister of war and the commander-in-chief, he was addressed as "Sardar Sepah". In 1923 he became Prime Minister and was bestowed with the style of Serene Highness (Janab-i-Ashraf), and later elevated to Highness (Hazrat-i-Ashraf) upon his granting of dictatorial powers by parliament.
Reza Shah's second wife was Nimtaj Khanoum, later Queen Tadj ol-Molouk (1896-1982). The couple married in 1916 and when Reza Khan became king, Queen Tadj ol-Molouk was his official wife. They had four children together:
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 Socialist Soviet 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."
On 14 January 1921, the commander of the British Forces in Iran, General Edmund "Tiny" Ironside, promoted Reza Khan, who had been leading the Tabriz battalion, to lead the entire brigade. 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. 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 if events in Persia should prove threatening to Soviet national security. This treaty would cause enormous tension between the two nations until the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran.
The third wife of Reza Shah was Queen Turan Amir Soleimani (1904-1995), who was from the Qajar dynasty. The couple married in 1922 but divorced in 1923 and together they had a son:
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. 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.
Reza Shah's fourth and last wife, Queen Esmat Dowlatshahi (1905-1995), was a Princess of the Qajar dynasty. She married Reza Shah in 1923 and accompanied him to his exile. Queen Esmat was Reza Shah's favorite wife, who resided at Marble Palace. The couple had five children:
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 Atatürk had done in Turkey, but abandoned the idea in the face of British and clerical opposition.
The Majlis, convening as a constituent assembly, declared him the Shah (King) of Iran on 12 December 1925, pursuant to the Persian Constitution of 1906. 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 crown prince.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
In response to the Shah's defiance, the Red Army on 16 September moved to occupy Tehran. Fearing execution by the Communists, many people (especially the wealthy) fled the city. Reza Shah, in a letter handwritten by Foroughi, announced his abdication, as the Soviets entered the city on 17 September. The British wanted to restore the Qajar Dynasty to power, but the heir to Ahmad Shah Qajar since that last Qajar Shah’s death in 1930, Hamid Hassan Mirza, was a British citizen who spoke no Persian. Instead (with the help of Foroughi), Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi took the oath to become the Shah of Iran.
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 the 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.
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 the 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. General 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".
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 Mullahs from the religious establishment. 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.
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 Firouz Nosrat-ed-Dowleh III, 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.
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.
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, and in 1934 a law set heavy fines for cinemas, restaurant, and hotels that did not open their doors to both sexes. 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.
During a 1934 meeting with Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Reza Shah spoke in Azeri Turkish, and Atatürk in Istanbul Turkish
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 ("Land of the Aryans"), the endonym 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. Although (internally) the country had been referred to as Iran throughout much of its history since the Sasanian Empire, 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. While Persians are only one of several ethnic groups in Iran, their home province Pars was a center of political power in ancient times under the Achaemenid Empire and Sasanian 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.
By the mid-1930s, Reza Shah's rule had caused intense dissatisfaction of the Shi'a clergy throughout Iran. 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, killing dozens and injuring hundreds, and marking a final rupture between Shi'ite clergy and the Shah. 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.
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".
The Anglo-Soviet invasion was instigated in response to Reza for having denied the request to remove the German residents, who could threaten the Abadan refinery. 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 one thousand. Because of its strategic importance to the Allies, Iran was subsequently called "The Bridge of Victory" by Winston Churchill.
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. 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 the United Kingdom, 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 invaded and occupied the country in August 1941.
In August 1941, the Allied powers the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran by a massive air, land, and naval assault. By 28–29 August, the Iranian military situation was in complete chaos. The Allies had complete control over the skies of Iran, and large sections of the country were in their hands. Major Iranian cities (such as Tehran) were suffering repeated air raids. In Tehran itself, the casualties had been light, but the Soviet Air Force dropped leaflets over city, warning the population of an upcoming massive bombing raid and urging them to surrender before they suffered imminent destruction. Tehran's water and food supply had faced shortages, and soldiers fled in fear of the Soviets killing them upon capture. Faced with total collapse, the royal family (except the Shah and the Crown Prince) fled to Isfahan.
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.
Clarmont Skrine, a British civil servant who accompanied Reza Shah on his 1941 journey to Mauritius, writes in his book, World War In Iran: "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".
Like his son after him, his life in exile was short. After the United Kingdom 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, 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. 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). In May 1950, the remains were flown back to Iran. 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. However, in a recent documentary "From Tehran to Cairo," his daughter-in-law, Empress Farah claimed that the remains of the late Reza Shah remain in the town of Ray.
After the 1979 revolution and during the period of the Interim Government of Iran, Iran faced a series of rampages at the hand of an extremist mob led by the cleric Sadeq Khalkhali. During this rampage, happening all over the nation, any construction depicting or even citing the name of the Shah and his family was destroyed. This included the destruction of Reza Shah's mausoleum, but they were unable to find his dead body.
In 2018, a mummified body believed to be Reza Shah's was found in the vicinity of his former mausoleum site in Tehran. Officials said that they reburied the body.
Currently, Reza Shah is 143 years, 4 months and 21 days old. Reza Shah will celebrate 144th birthday on a Tuesday 15th of March 2022.
Find out about Reza Shah birthday activities in timeline view here.