In 1921, British support helped raise a capable, 43 year old Brigadier General named Reza Khan to prominence on the Persian political scene. Reze Khan had performed well as head of the Persian Cossack Brigade against a brief Bolshevik invasion, impressing British military officials in Persia. With British support, Reza Khan launched a coup in early 1921 that toppled the Iranian government. Khan then had himself made commander of the Army and Minister of War. Two years later Reza Khan forced Ahmad Shah Qajar into exile, and in 1926 assumed the title Shah of Iran for himself. He became Reza Shah Pahlavi, founder and first head of the Pahlavi Dynasty.
Although retaining de jure independence, Iran remained deeply affected by great power politics. Reza Shah Pahlavi concentrated his efforts on modernizing Iran and bringing it into the West, the latter project putting him at odds with Shia clergy. His efforts included the acceptance of Italian advisors into the military, and “Women’s Awakening” a project intended to eliminate the veil and modernize the position of women in Iranian society. Overall, however, the Shah’s reforms had the effect of alienating large parts of Iranian society. In August 1941, Iran was subjected to “peaceful” occupation by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. This occupation ensured that Iran would not enter the war on the side of the Axis, and that critical Western supplies could reach the Soviet Union. Primarily British suspicion of the Shah led to his deposition in September 1941, and the ascension of his son. Reza Shah Pahlavi would die three years later in Johannesburg, South Africa, according to some sources by British poison.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi continued his father’s Westernization project after assuming the Iranian throne. In the 1950s, British influence in Iran would be steadily replaced by American, but tensions with the Soviet Union continued. A British and American supported coup helped overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, with the general acquiesence of the Shah. Indeed, fearing that the coup was going badly, the Shah fled Iran for Baghdad and Rome, leading to serious anti-monarchy riots that were put down by the Iranian Army. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi would remain a staunch, autocratic ally of the United States for the rest of the Cold War. His position deteriorated through the 1970s, and in 1979 he was forced to flee in the face of revolution. Seriously ill, the former Shah would visit several countries, including the United States, before dying in July of 1980. He is buried in Cairo.
Reza Pahlavi, Crown Prince prior to 1979, is the current Pahlavi heir to the Iranian throne. Reza Pahlavi received an undergraduate degree from USC in the early 1980s, and learned how to fly a fighter jet in Texas. An offer to fly for the Iranian Air Force in the Iran-Iraq War was turned down by Iranian authorities. Although Reza Pahlavi now uses the term “former crown prince”, there are indications that he would welcome a return to the throne. Notably, however, he has argued against the use of force against Iran, suggesting that such action would strengthen the Iranian government and that any change needs to come from within. Prospects for a return to the throne, however, seem unlikely, as even a post-revolutionary government would hesitate to return to the son of the unpopular Shah to the throne.
(Corrected to reflect the appropriate heir to the throne.)
Trivia: Revolutionary enthusiasm would lead to the naming of at least two American counties, two towns, and one alcoholic beverage after which royal house?