Princess Ashraf

AP “Princess Ashraf, twin sister of Iran’s last shah, dies at 96”


Immortalised in her royal years by an Andy Warhol portrait with bright red lips and raven-black hair, Princess Ashraf’s subsequent life resembled a Shakespearean tragedy. Assassins killed her son on a Paris street just after the Islamic Revolution, her twin brother died of cancer shortly after, while a niece died of a 2001 drug overdose in London and a nephew killed himself in Boston 10 years later*4 .

Born 26 October, 1919, Princess Ashraf was the daughter of the monarch Reza Shah, who came to power in a 1921 coup engineered by Britain and was later forced to abdicate the throne after a 1941 invasion by Britain and Russia.

The US helped to orchestrate the coup in 1953 that overthrew Iran’s popularly elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, over fears he was tilting toward the Soviet Union. Those events brought the princess’s brother to power and set the stage for decades of mistrust between the countries.

The shah was “a man of indecision,” according to a long-classified CIA account of the coup first published by The New York Times in 2000. To push the coup along, the plotters reached out to “the shah’s dynamic and forceful twin sister” who already had been in touch with US and British agents, according to the account. After “considerable pressure” by her and a US general, the shah reportedly agreed.

As her brother’s government ruled in opulence and its secret police tortured political activists, Princess Ashraf focused on women’s rights in an appointment to the United Nations. She and her sister, Shams, were among the first Iranian women to go in public with their hair uncovered, breaking traditional norms in the Shiite country. Princess Ashraf also worked on other diplomatic missions for Iran.

After her brother was overthrown in 1979 during Iran’s Islamic revolution, Princess Ashraf shuttled between homes in Paris, New York and Monte Carlo. She published a memoir and remained outspoken immediately after the overthrow.

“After the death of my brother, if we had had the $65bn some people said we had we would have retaken Iran just like that,” she said in 1983.

Princess Ashraf married and divorced three times and had three children. She gradually faded from public view, although she attended US President Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994.

She always maintained she regretted nothing: “I would want to do the same thing. It’s passed, now, only memories. But there were 50 years of grandeur, of glory.”