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Iran's Exiled Prince Says Mummified Body 'Probably' Former Shah

A mummy found during construction at a shrine near Tehran on April 23, 2018, is pictured alongside the remains of Iran's former ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi, who some Iranians say resembles the mummified body. (Photo courtesy of Iranian state news agency)

Iran's exiled crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, says he believes Iranian authorities have found the remains of his grandfather, a former ruler of the nation, at the site of a destroyed tomb where he had been buried.

In a Tuesday statement posted on Twitter, the U.S.-based Pahlavi said he believes the mummified body discovered the previous day during construction at a shrine near Tehran "most probably" belongs to Reza Shah Pahlavi.

He said he and his family had been collecting and assessing information to verify reports of the discovery at the Abdul Azim shrine, first reported Monday by IRNA, Iran's main news agency. IRNA quoted the head of Tehran's cultural heritage committee, Hassan Khalilabadi, as saying the mummy found by construction workers at the site "possibly" is that of the former shah but that authorities would examine it to be sure.

Photos of the mummy taken by the construction workers and posted on social media went viral in Iran.

Speaking to VOA Persian's Late News show on Tuesday, a senior member of an exiled Iranian dissident group founded by the crown prince said the mummy's neck and skull resemble that of Reza Shah.

"The pictures that we saw on social media are heartbreaking," said Nazila Golestan, a Paris-based political officer of the Iran National Council for Free Elections. "Whatever you think about him, Reza Shah belongs to Iranian history … it is our duty to respect our heritage."

Reza Shah Pahlavi is seen in this undated photo.
Reza Shah Pahlavi is seen in this undated photo.

Reza Shah came to power in 1925 and ruled for 16 years, helping to modernize Iran until abdicating in favor of his son in 1941 under pressure from British forces who were part of an Allied invasion of the country that year. Reza Shah died in exile in South Africa in 1944 and was mummified in Egypt. His remains were flown back to Iran in 1950 and buried in a mausoleum at Shahr Rey, south of Tehran city.

A year after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution deposed and exiled Reza Shah's son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian cleric Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali led a group of Islamists in demolishing the mausoleum. Khalkhali later wrote that he regretted not finding and desecrating Reza Shah's body, and suspected that the deceased monarch's family members had taken it with them into exile.

In his Twitter statement, Reza Pahlavi reiterated his family's denial that it had removed Reza Shah's body from the mausoleum. He called on Iran's government to rebury his grandfather in a marked grave.

"Reza Shah must ultimately be buried again in Iran in an appropriate manner respecting the wishes of our family and the Iranian people — if not as the father of modern Iran or as a king, [then] only as a simple soldier and servant of his country and his people," Pahlavi wrote.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian Service.