Mystery over mummified body discovered in Iran
Reza Shah Pahlavi pushed to modernise Iran before being deposed and dying in exile during the Second World War.
The discovery in Iran of a mummified body near the site of a former royal mausoleum has raised speculation it could be the remains of the late Reza Shah Pahlavi, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty.
Hassan Khalilabadi, the head of Tehran city council’s cultural heritage and tourism committee, said it is “possible” the mummy is Reza Shah.
The body was discovered during construction work at a Shiite shrine in Tehran, Mr Khalilabadi told the state-run IRNA news agency.
Reza Shah pushed to modernise Iran before being deposed and dying in exile during the Second World War.
His son, Mohammad Reza Shah, became Iran’s last shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution installed the country’s Shiite-dominated theocracy.
His grandson, the US-based exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, warned Iran on Twitter “not to hide anything”.
The recent find and the speculation it triggered puts new hurdles in the way of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to fully erase the country’s dynastic past, which includes the destruction of the autocrat’s tomb immediately after the 1979 revolution.
Yet, as disaffection and economic problems grow ahead of the Islamic Revolution’s 40th anniversary, mystique around Iran’s age of monarchies persists even with its own history of abuses.
Construction workers discovered the mummified remains at the Shiite shrine of Abdul Azim, whose minarets once rose behind Reza Shah’s own mausoleum. A digger pulling away dirt and debris uncovered the body, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Pictures of the body, as well as construction workers posing with it, quickly hit social media in Iran.
Authorities say they will need to conduct DNA tests to confirm whose body it is.
Reza Shah’s own rise gave birth to modern Iran itself, then still called Persia until he ordered foreign diplomats to cease using the name.
He came to power in 1925, ruling as an absolute autocrat who used taxes and the country’s burgeoning oil revenues to rapidly modernise the nation.
His decisions echo today, particularly his 1936 decree banning women from wearing long, flowing black robes known as chadors.
He ordered men to wear Western clothes and bring their wives to public functions with their hair uncovered, borrowing from the secularisation of Turkey’s first President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a contemporary.
The ban became a source of humiliation for some pious Muslim women in the country. Shiite clerics, angry over his secular beliefs, purges and mass arrests of opponents, held grudges that would stir up the coming revolution.
Controversies over the chador and hijab persist in Iran today.
Iran’s strong trade ties with Germany, Reza Shah’s push for neutrality amid the coming of the Second World War and Western fears over its oil supplies falling to the Nazis ultimately sparked a Russian-British invasion of the country in 1941.
Reza Shah abdicated in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at the insistence of the occupying British forces.
Reza Shah ended up in South Africa, dying there in 1944. His body was taken to Cairo, mummified and held for years before returning to Iran. A grand mausoleum near Tehran held his body for years, which then-US president Richard Nixon visited in 1972.
After 1979, however, Islamists viewed the mausoleum as an affront.
Iranian cleric Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, who ordered the executions of hundreds after the revolution, led a mob of supporters who used sledgehammers and other tools to demolish the mausoleum.
Khalkhali later would write in his memoirs that he believed the shah’s family took Reza Shah’s body when they fled the country. The shah’s family, however, maintained the body remained in Iran. His son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was buried in Cairo after dying of cancer in 1980.
Today, Iran’s youth remain fascinated by the time before the revolution.
Television period pieces have focused on the Pahlavi dynasty, including the recent state TV series The Enigma Of The Shah, the most expensive series ever produced to air in the country.