1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Mummified body in Iran poses problems

Jamshid Barzegar
April 26, 2018

The discovery of a mummified body near a shrine south of Tehran has sparked speculation that it may be the remains of the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, Reza Shah. The Iranian authorities are already in discredit mode.

mummified body
Image: Fararu

Iranian media reported that the mummy was unearthed where Reza Shah was buried following his death in 1944. His tomb was destroyed a year after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

The discovery coincided with the 92nd anniversary of Reza Shah's crowning ceremony on April 25, 1926 and has sparked contradictory reactions from Iranian officials.

Hassan Khalilabadi, the head of the cultural heritage and tourism committee at Tehran's city council, told the state-run IRNA news agency that "Some believe it is possible that the body could be the remains of the first Pahlavi that was transferred to Tehran after being mummified and buried in the Abdol Azim Haasani mausoleum."

Clarity expected soon

But others swiftly dismissed it as a rumor. "Finding a body in an area that previously was a cemetery is obvious," said semi-official ISNA News Agency, quoting the public relations office of the Abdol Azim Haasani mausoleum.

Meanwhile, former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi issued a statement saying the body was "most probably" that of his grandfather. "We are investigating the matter and we expect to get clarity on the issue in the coming days. I warn the officials against any secrecy and lack of transparency in their handling of the matter."

Many see Reza Shah as a pioneer of modernization in Iran, who introduced a spate of social, economic, and political reforms during his reign, that paved the way for the modern Iranian state. However, by the 1930s, his close ties to Nazi Germany began to worry Allied states, who forced him to to step down. He was sent to exile and died in 1944 in South Africa. Later his body was sent to Egypt where it was mummified. Under his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, the mummified body was brought back to Iran in 1950 and buried in a shrine in the city of Ray, south of Tehran.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with US President Roosevelt
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (left) came to power after Allied Forces forced the abdication of his father, Reza ShahImage: picture alliance/Everett Collection

Iran's authorities in a quandary

The alleged discovery poses a dilemma for the Islamic Republic's leaders who overthrew the Pahlavi Regime and have since then cemented their power.

It also ties in with the current difficult political climate in Iran triggered by nationwide protests at the end of last year. Iranians from all walks of life, particularly in the city of Qom — the spiritual capital of Iran and a base for influential Shiite Mullahs, voiced their support of the Pahlavi family and demanded a return of the monarchy.

Read moreOpinion: Is the end near for Iran's theocracy? 

There is widespread distrust of the Iranian authorities which could make it difficult for them to assure the population that the body is not that of Reza Shah, even if that were to be the case. High-ranking officials including the Iranian president have not addressed the issue yet. There are also no official reports on what happened to the mummified body after the discovery.

Based on the local media coverage, it seems hardliners are trying to deny any sort of connection between the body and Reza Shah by trying to discredit him and the Pahlavi family. The government has the awkward task of figuring out what to do with the body. Simply making a new tomb would be difficult, but neither can they ignore the situation.

At the same time, on social media many people are demanding that the government respect Reza Shah and hold a proper burial service for him — a dilemma for those responsible for the destruction of his tomb 39 years ago who now face a new generation that regards the royal family very differently.