When Her Majesty Farah Pahlavi, the Empress of Iran, walked into the room you knew you were in the presence of royalty. The last Empress of Iran greeted hundreds of her fellow countrymen last week at a reception and book signing at Queens College. Regal and elegant, a beautiful woman with a touch of sadness in her eyes, the Empress was most approachable at a small, private opening reception and disarmingly honest, incredibly knowledgeable, during the public program that followed, as she discussed her book, An Enduring Love, My Life with the Shah, "A Memoir," and answered questions both in English and in Farci.
The Empress of Iran (center) greets her old friend, Great Neck's Lee Seeman (l.) and Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman. Photo by Wendy K. Kreitzman
A large contingent of Great Neck's Iranian population came to see Her Majesty and Great Neck's own very talented pianist/composer Tania Eshaghoff performed a moving musical tribute for the Empress, along with musicians from the Copeland School of Music at Queens College. The audience was warm and welcoming and most supportive of the Empress.
Threaded through her words during the evening was Her Majesty's strong desire to see a free Iran, a country where her people would be free to choose either a constitutional monarchy or some other form of democratic government. And, over and over again, she did emphasize the beauty and value of the Iranian culture, the rich history she and so many others had to leave behind, and the importance of instilling that culture in future generations of Iranians, some of whom have never seen their homeland.
Her Majesty explained that she chose to write her book, and share her memories, so that her children and grandchildren and young Iranians the world over would know the story. Why did she write the book now? "I needed some distance from events, as did my compatriots," she told the audience.
The Empress met the Shah when she was only 8 years old and admired him always. She next met her future husband in Paris, when she was a young architecture student, a rare opportunity for an Iranian young woman of that era. The Shah was impressed with the young woman and they met again and a romance began. "I couldn't imagine life as a queen," Her Majesty said. "I was told there would be many responsibilities toward my country and my compatriots."
Speaking of the Shah, her husband, she told that he was "a civilized man with a sense of justice, patient, always in control, and very kind and respectful to those who worked for him." The Empress said that the man she married was "a loving husband, my guide, and a loving father, very open to his children." The Shah, she said, "loved Iran and the Iranian people."
During her reign as Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi headed 35 organizations, traveled extensively and managed "a huge amount of work." She spoke of being very thankful that the Shah let her serve her country and she said that she "achieved many dreams." For the Empress, helping the children was paramount, especially education and health care. Improving the conditions of women in Iran was a project dear to her heart and the Empress truly hopes to see those women once more treated as first class citizens.
The Empress also spoke of her work during her years in Iran as she strove to encourage contemporary artists and create many museums. Not all of these museums were completed during the Shah's reign, but it is the hope of the Empress to one day see all completed.
"It was a very hard day when we left Iran; I felt for His Majesty," the Empress said as she began to discuss exile. "You leave your roots, your family, your friends, your home; but we never lost hope that one day we would return, even today," she said in her soft, yet strong voice, in perfect English. It has been almost 26 years since the Shah and his Empress, along with their four children, had to flee Iran. "We lost everything and now we see what has happened for all Iranians," she added.
The Empress went on to speak of the respect with which Iran was held during her husband's reign. "Iran was respected, a center of peace," she reminded her appreciative audience. "It's hard to bear now," she said, and began to speak of her pride in her compatriots now living all around the world. The Empress spoke of her pride in the young Iranians of today and how well the exiled young ones have been educated. She spoke, too, of her pride in the Iranian women, how they have kept their families intact.
Today the Empress communicates with young Iranians the world over, personally answering emails, often hearing from young Iranians still in Iran, those who never knew her nor the Shah. "I am touched; I receive strength from those young Iranians who write to me," she said.
Her Majesty also spoke of the hurt she felt when they fled Iran and many people changed in their attitudes toward the deposed Shah and his family. She is most grateful to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for his warm reception at the start of their years in exile. "How we were received in Egypt, when no one wanted us, it showed how, even in politics, there are some moral values," Her Majesty said. She is most grateful, too, to her compatriots "who have suffered so and come to me with affection."
The admiration and affection for Farah Pahlavi was palpable in the large concert hall. Asked how she has been able to go on, she simply said "Life is a struggle, but you cannot lose your dignity and your hope for the future; you cannot keep bitterness." The Empress is most grateful for what she has, for the love of her family, her friends and her compatriots, and again, she spoke of her strong desire to see Iran be a democracy. This, she said, is important to her, important for Iran, important for the Middle East and important for all the world.
When asked how history would judge the Shah, her answer was met with great applause, as she said "We don't have to wait for history to judge the King. He is judged now by his compatriots." And she told how people stop her in the streets, with words of blessing for her late husband.
Her message to her compatriots was heartfelt: "Don't give up hope! It will change. Keep hope and fight!" She asked one and all to "think of the Iranian people, invest in the future of Iran" and she said that her son would continue to fight for the freedoms today denied in Iran. And when Iran is free, her son, she said, would serve in any way he could, whether the people chose a constitutional monarchy or some other form of democratic government.
"Do not lose hope," the last Empress of Iran begged her compatriots. To her fellow exiled Iranians she implored "Don't forget about Iran; it is worth fighting for. We have a valuable culture that should not be forgotten. Keep Iran inside of you!"