Since 1980, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former ousted dictator of Iran, who has been enjoying a luxurious life in the United States with the wealth his father stole from the people of Iran, is trying to position himself as the rightful heir and ruler of Iran. However, his claims are shrouded in lies and deceit, as he struggles to rebrand his grandfather as a benevolent ruler, even though he was a dictator who oppressed the Iranian people for decades.
The reality is that the Shah was a notorious figure, who was widely criticized for his brutal regime and widespread human rights abuses. Despite Pahlavi’s attempts to revise history, the truth is that the Shah was a cruel tyrant who ruled with an iron fist. He suppressed dissent, censured the media, imposed martial law, and reign led to widespread poverty, corruption, and illiteracy.
Nevertheless, as some Persian-language media are echoing Pahlavi’s false sentiments with dubious agendas, it might be worth revisiting how Reza Pahlavi really was and what he has done for Iran, or better put, to Iran.
Reza Khan was born in 1878 in the village of Alasht in the province of Mazandaran. He was taken to Tehran and joined the Cossack Brigade as a young soldier. Despite being illiterate, he rose to the rank of Brigadier General due to his ambitious and ruthless demeanor. He served as a guard for the Dutch consul general in Tehran and was known for his role as a leader of religious bands and as a community enforcer in religious ceremonies.
The Cossack Brigade was created by Naser al-Din Shah in 1879 as a token of friendship with the Russian tsar. The Brigade was based on the Russian Imperial model, and its officers were loyal to the Russian tsar, who used them to protect the Qajar throne and maintain control over Iran.
The Brigade disrupted Iran’s 1906 democratic process and constitutional revolution by disbanding the first parliament. This resulted in a political crisis until 1921, when Reza Khan, with British support, led a coup against the weak Qajar shah. The Qajar dynasty, influenced by Russia and Britain, had led Iran to financial ruin and a political crisis. They were weak against foreign influence and oppressive to citizens, and they worked with Russia and the reactionary clergy to regain their power over the democratic movement in Iran.
William Morgan Shuster, a US civil servant, and banker were hired as Iran’s treasurer-general in 1911. He wrote “The Strangling of Persia” in 1912, condemning foreign interference in Iran. Shuster’s efforts were short-lived due to Russian threats, and he dedicated his book to the Persian people. In the foreword, he wrote that the sacrifice of Iran’s constitutionalists should sharpen the world’s awareness of the international robbery of 1911.
Despite Pahlavi’s ruthless approach and censorship, Iran witnessed the socio-political evolution in the world of the 20th century. Revolutions were brewing in the country due to influences such as a lively press, a growing merchant class, as well as frustration with the monarchy’s exploitation and the interference of imperial powers. Despite initially supporting Iran’s constitutionalists, the British imperial order ultimately worked against Iranian democrats for its own benefit.
Britain’s intentions to control Iran’s oil and secure British India did not sit well with an emerging independent Iran. Therefore, London’s decision to replace Russia’s influence led to their support of Reza Khan in a coup. As commander of the Cossack Brigade, Pahlavi marched into Tehran in 1921, ending Iran’s democratic movement. He declared martial law, positioned himself as a strongman, and rose to power as prime minister in 1923. The subservient parliament elected him as Shah, establishing the Pahlavi dynasty.
After being crowned Shah in 1926, Reza Shah centralized his power in Iran and left his mark on the country. He seized vast estates, estimated to be over 3 million acres, and enriched his household with the country’s wealth. Reza Shah is said to have forcibly taken possession of 44,000 properties, devastating the lives of many. He is believed to have had bank accounts containing between $20 million and $300 million (Washington Post, October 1, 1941). He also took the Iranian monarchy’s valuable assets, including emeralds, rubies, diamonds, gold, silver, and artwork.
In older generations across Iran, Reza Shah is remembered as “Reza, the Bully” for his oppressive actions, including suppressing minorities and movements, intimidating the press and intelligentsia, disregarding the 1906 constitution and parliament, and forcing women in traditional communities to abandon their head coverings.
He killed journalists and politicians who spoke out against his brutal efforts. He also suppressed Iranian intellectuals and free thinkers and limited the growth of a free market through his connections with wealthy landowners and families.
Despite his intimidating demeanor towards Iranians, he was lenient towards powerful nations like Britain. In 1933, he made an agreement with the British to extend the D’Arcy Concession for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) with John Cadman, the head of APOC, and Reginald Hoare, the British ambassador to Tehran. He compelled the parliament to pass it unanimously.
Under the treaty with APOC, the company was allowed to continue its oil operations in exchange for paying 20% of its profits to Iran, with the Shah being the primary recipient. The extent of Imtiaz operations was reduced from 400,000 miles (about 643737.6 km) to 10,000 miles (about 16093.44 km). The agreement extended the D’Arcy Concession, which was set to expire in 1962, for an additional 32 years.
In the 1930s, Reza Shah expressed admiration for Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany, inviting Nazi military advisors to Iran. He saw his own career as similar to Hitler’s and aimed to establish a new world order in favor of the Axis powers.
During a visit to Germany, Reza Shah’s wife, Tajol-Muluk, recorded in her diary the gifts of Persian carpets and pistachios that the Iranian delegation brought for Hitler. Hitler reciprocated by praising Reza Shah and sending a self-portrait, which is now preserved in the Niavaran Museum Palace Collection in the Saheb Quran Palace.
However, Reza Shah’s pro-Nazi stance proved to be a costly mistake. Fearing his alliance with Hitler, the British and Soviets forced him to abdicate in 1941 and hand over power to his son. He passed away in exile on the island of Mauritius near South Africa in 1944.
Reza Khan, the bully, was brought to power by the British, terrorized and plundered the entire nation in 16 years, and was removed from power by foreign forces.
Despite Pahlavi’s attempts to distance himself from the clerical dictatorship, his efforts are likely to fall short, as the Iranian people had a deep-seated resentment towards his father and grandfather and their brutal regimes which led to the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution and toppling Pahlavi’s dictatorial regime.
Furthermore, his attempts to portray himself as a savior or alternative to the current regime ring hollow, given his lack of genuine support among the Iranian people and his close association with the former regime’s officials and statecraft.
Crediting himself by comparing the atrocities of the current regime with a painted version of the legacy of his sires is proof that Reza Pahlavi II is aware of his lack of socio-political foothold in Iran. His willingness to work with Khamenei’s IRGC forces to maintain law and order in the future also demonstrates an understanding that he lacks any significant organizational support inside the country.
The notion of an “opposing group” that emphasizes collaboration with the regime’s IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and Basij and discourages any aggressive action against the regime is merely supporting a ruling system that has no desire to relinquish power peacefully. The clerical dictatorship, which has effectively used all means to suppress protests, is promoting false alternatives. While the uprising in Iran has claimed hundreds of lives and begs for unity, Reza Pahlavi has become a discordant factor that aids Khamenei’s agenda of dividing and conquering Iran. However, the confrontational approach seen in the streets of Iran demonstrates that the people understand that change can only be achieved through sacrifice.
Reza Pahlavi & his collaboration with the oppressive #IRGC & Basij forces as repeatedly admitted by him.
IRGC killed at least 1,500 innocent protesters in Nov. 2019, and many in the ongoing #IranRevolution & is on U.S. FTO list. pic.twitter.com/uvCUatavbJ
— Facts on Iran (@FactsOnIran) January 30, 2023