October 26, 2020, commemorates the 101st birthday of the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Born in 1919, he became the crown prince of Iran in 1925, upon the ascension of his father, Reza Shah the Great, to the throne.
Even though a century has passed since the Shah’s birth, and four decades since his death, his legacy continues to thrive. In an earlier article published to mark his demise, we noted:
The Shah´s legacy can thus not be denied, nor overlooked. His and his regime´s shortcomings, must be discussed with respect to not only his achievements and triumphs, but also to the history of Iran. We must ask, what type of Iran he took over and what type of Iran he left in 1979. It is quite clear that even though 40 years have passed since the death of the Shah, he is fully alive in the mind and conscious of the Iranian people. He is dead, yet Iranian demonstrators are calling for him: “Shah of Shahs – Rest in Peace” (in Persian: shahanshah – rohat shad”).
Mohammad Reza Shah devoted his life to the modernization of Iran. When his father assumed leadership, Iran was a destitute, disadvantaged, and weak nation. Reza Shah initiated substantial modernization efforts and upon his forced abdication by the British, his son Mohammad Reza Shah continued the transformation. In less than three decades, Iran evolved into a regional economic and political force, even attaining the status of a global power. One of the Shah’s most notable achievements was the liberation he bestowed upon Iranian women. They not only obtained voting rights, but also the right to hold office, becoming one of the first in the Middle East to do so.
More than forty years have lapsed since the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the Shah’s passing, allowing much of the truth about his life, rule, overthrow, and death to surface. These revelations, especially those concerning the reasons and objectives behind the revolution, have been instrumental in sparking today’s chants in his name by the Iranian people, transforming his previous opponents into his strongest advocates. A case in point is Aref Arefkia.
Aref, one of Iran’s most esteemed singers, and known as the “Iranian King of Pop”, is widely adored. However, he was an active participant in the revolution against the Shah in 1979 and even sang songs endorsing it. In a BBC interview as recent as 2013, he proclaimed:
You see, we were all waiting for that revolution because we thought dictatorship would be destroyed and freedom would be achieved. And parties, newspapers and magazines would be free.
Aref was such a vehement critic of the Shah that after his departure from Iran in 1980, he performed for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a group that carried out several acts of terrorism during the Shah’s reign and is considered an archenemy of the Iranian monarchy and the Shah himself.
However, Aref’s views have since shifted. In September 2020, he released a single titled “Sarzamin-e Madari”, or Motherland. The song laments his forced departure from his country due to an event (the revolution), expressing his desire to one day return.
“The saddest song will not comfort the father, and no one will be a better friend to me like the son”.
The references to “father and son” allude to Reza Shah the Great and his son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The music video features images of both leaders, and it shows Aref engrossed in books about them, including “Answer to History”, penned by Mohammad Reza Shah during his exile.
History is often regarded as the finest judge, revealing the truth over time. In the Shah’s case, it took merely four decades for his true legacy to surface. Today, his absence is deeply felt, particularly as Iran faces grave challenges.
Happy birthday, beloved Shah!