Ashraf ol-Molouk Pahlavi, referred to as Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, was the twin of the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. They were born on 26 October 1919 in Tehran, Persia. Ashraf was younger by five hours. They were born to then military commander Reza Pahlavi and Tadj ol-Molouk – two years before the Persian coup d’ état which led to their father being appointed monarch in 1925.
In 1934, Ashraf’s mother was instrumental in the lifting of the veil, and Ashraf followed suit. Alongside her mother, she and her older sister, Shams appeared in public without the veil at an event. Although she did not attend university due to her father forcing her into marriage, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi was fluent in English and French along with her native Persian. By her own account in her memoir, she called herself rebellious, quick-tempered and volatile. Admittedly, she also felt like an outsider in the family with her older sister getting much attention and her twin poised to become the next Shah, as she wrote, “I realised very early that I was an outsider, that I would have to create a place for myself. In later years my critics would say I had overdone this somewhat, that my presence was everywhere. But as a child, I was scarcely noticed at all.”
Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, like her father and brother, was pro-West and modern, used her role to champion the cause of women. She was the President of the Organization of Iranian Women, the Iranian delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the chairwoman of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and an adviser to the World Conference on Women in 1975.
In 1937, she was married to Mirza Khan Ghavam due, in part, to his family being political allies of her father. On 18 April 1940, she would give birth to her first child, Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahram Pahlavi-Nia. The union between Ashraf and Mirza would not last, and they would divorce in 1942. She would marry for a second time to Ahmed Chafik Bey, who was the director-general of Civil Aviation and son of the minister of the Khedivial Court of Egypt, in 1944. They would have two children: Prince (Vala Gohar) Shahriar Mustapha Chafik (b. 1945) and Princess (Vala Gohari) Azadeh Pahlavi-Chafik (b. 1951). Ashraf would divorce for the second time in 1960 and remarry the same year. Her third husband was the Director of the House of Iran, Mehdi Bushehri. The couple had no children and spent a significant time apart as Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, and her family were forced into exile and resided in the United States; he lived in Paris.
With the Iranian Revolution came the overthrow and exile of her brother the Shah, who was ill, in 1979. She divided her time between New York City and the French Riviera. Her Imperial Highness would go on to write three books – two in English and one in French – Faces in a Mirror: Memoirs from Exile, Time for Truth and Jamais Résignée. These memoirs were written as autobiographies and to clear up any misconceptions about her family.
She was once asked if she would do anything different in her life, if given the opportunity, by the Associated Press. She responded, “I would want to do the same thing.”
The Princess suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in her sleep in Monte Carlo at the age of 96, at which time she was the oldest living member of her family. She died on 7 January 2016, and her death was announced by her nephew, Crown Prince Reza of Iran on his Facebook page. After her funeral on 14 January, she was buried in Monaco at Cimetière de Monaco (the Cemetary of Monaco).