Pahlavi, Farah (1938—)

views updated

Pahlavi, Farah (1938—)

Empress of Iran. Name variations: Farah Diba. Crowned empress on October 26, 1967. Born in Tehran, Iran, on October 14, 1938; daughter of Sohrab Diba (a captain in the imperial Iranian army) and Farideh Ghotbi; attended Tehran's Jeanne d'Arc and Razi schools; attended the École d'Architecture in Paris; became third wife of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi also known as Riza I Pahlavi, shah of Iran (r. 1941–1979, deposed), on December 20, 1959; children: Prince Reza (crown prince) also known as Reza II Pahlavi (b. 1960); Princess Farahnaz (b. 1963); Prince Ali Reza (b. 1966); Princess Leila (b. 1970).

The last crowned empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi was born in Teheran in October 1938. Her father, an army officer, died when she was nine years old, after which her mother ensured that she received an excellent education first in Teheran and later in Paris. She was 21 when she became the third wife of Muhammah Reza Shah Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, in 1959. The 40-year-old shah had previously divorced two wives, the Egyptian princess Fawzia (sister of King Farouk) and the Iranian commoner Soraya Pahlavi , for incompatibility and for not providing him with a male heir; this Farah Pahlavi accomplished the year after her marriage with the birth of their son Prince Reza.

The shah was dedicated to social and economic reform (although not to dissent from his political opponents), and granted Iranian women the right to vote and to hold elected office in 1963. Empress Farah became both a symbol and a champion of women's broader roles in Iranian society, and was a highly visible patron of numerous charitable, cultural, medical and educational organizations. She also made it a point to travel throughout the country to meet with ordinary citizens. A strong proponent of the arts, she supported the creation of museums and the preservation of ancient art as well as the efforts of young artists. Farah also had three more children, princesses Farahnaz (b. 1963) and Leila (b. 1970) and prince Ali Reza (b. 1966). In 1967, she became the first woman in 2,500 years to be crowned empress of Iran.

Meanwhile, however, the deteriorating economy, growing discontent with secularization, repression, and perceived U.S. influence, as well as the calls of exiled Islamic fundamentalists like the Ayatollah Khomeini, were roiling the Iranian landscape. In 1978 martial law was imposed in response to riots, and the following year the shah was deposed. He traveled to the United States for medical treatment, prompting the newly established revolutionary government to seize the U.S. embassy in Teheran and hold 66 Americans hostage for over a year, demanding his return to Iran. After the shah's death in Egypt in 1980, Farah became empress regent, although this was largely a symbolic title. In the years since, she has traveled widely, living mostly in Paris but frequently visiting her four children in the United States. She remains a supporter of the arts, and maintains hope that she will one day return to Iran.