Long-lost body of Iran's shah possibly found by heritage officials

A placard with an image of Iran's deposed shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi is seen during a rally in support of Iranian anti-government protests in Los Angeles on Jan 7, 2018.
A placard with an image of Iran's deposed shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi is seen during a rally in support of Iranian anti-government protests in Los Angeles on Jan 7, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

TEHERAN (AFP) - Teheran's heritage committee said on Monday (April 23) it has found a mummified body at the site of a former shah's tomb, raising a storm of interest over whether the long-lost corpse has been rediscovered.

After the 1979 revolution, the newly installed Islamic authorities did their best to erase any memories of the Pahlavi monarchy they had overthrown.

This included destroying the enormous tomb in south Teheran of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the military strongman who seized control of the country in the 1920s and abdicated in favour of his son in 1941 under pressure from the British.

Despite efforts to uncover his corpse, it was never found.

But on Monday, the head of the Teheran council's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Committee told state news agency IRNA that a mummified body had been found at the site, during expansion work on an Islamic shrine.

Mr Hassan Khalilabadi said it was "a possibility" the body belonged to Reza Shah Pahlavi.

"This will be examined by responsible bodies," he said.

The press office of the Abdol Azim shrine, which was being renovated, said the claims were just a rumour.

"The area surrounding the shrine was previously a cemetery, so discovering a body in this area is natural," said its PR director Mostafa Ajoorloo, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

The issue nonetheless triggered considerable interest on social media.

"Reza Shah's mausoleum was not just destroyed, it was turned over in the hope of finding his rotten bones, to no avail. And now he has emerged himself! Oh my God!" wrote one Twitter user.

The Pahlavis are a touchy subject for Iran's clerical rulers, who worry they are increasingly popular among young people with no memory of the revolution and the former regime.

Persian nationalism, with a particular reverence for Iran's pre-Islamic civilisation, has also been resurgent.

In recent years, attempts to mark "Cyrus Day" at the tomb of ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great in southern Iran have been blocked by the authorities and organisers arrested.

Mr Reza Pahlavi, grandson to the man buried in south Teheran, has remained an opposition figure in exile and supported the mass protests that hit the country in December and January.