Mossadegh and Zia al-Saltaneh
A Love Story

Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
The Mossadegh Project | September 13, 2009                    

Mossadegh and his wife, Zia al-Saltaneh While little is known about the personal life of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, he himself emphasized two individuals whom he particularly cherished—his mother and his wife.

Mossadegh was just a teenager when his mother began looking for a suitable wife for her son, as was the custom of the era. After a considerable search, she found 20 year-old princess Zahra Emami, granddaughter of a Qajar king. As he greatly respected his mother’s opinion, Mossadegh gladly accepted her choice. In 1901, at 19, Mohammad married Zahra, who later became Zia al-Saltaneh, a title held by her mother until her death.

The couple spent their daytime hours in different areas of their house, he in the public quarters known as biruni and she in the private quarters called andaruni; a common custom in Iran. After ten years of marriage and three children, Mossadegh moved his entire family to Europe. He and his wife moved to Switzerland where he began attending university to study law, Their eldest child, daughter Zia Ashraf, and sons Ahmad and Gholam-Hossein remained in France, where they were enrolled in Parisian schools.

Mossadegh returned to Iran the day before the start of World War I, having earned a PhD in law, now father to five children—with the addition of daughters Mansoureh and Khadijeh. Unhappy living abroad, Zia al-Saltaneh was glad to return home.

Although Mossadegh was one of the most public figures in the country for many decades, the family kept their private life to themselves and their friends did the same out of respect. Consequently, very little information became public regarding the nature of the couple's relationship during their marriage of over 60 years, other than that Zia Saltaneh was “a beautiful woman and an extremely loyal wife”.

The book Dar Khalvat-e Mossadegh ["In Private with Mossadegh"], published in 2007, added a fresh glimpse into Mossadegh’s domestic life. The author, Shirin Samii, had married Mossadegh’s grandson Mahmoud Mossadegh (the son of Gholam-Hussein), and become a member of the family. She first met Mossadegh in Ahmadabad, during the last decade of his life under house arrest. Samii developed a close relationship with Mossadegh, and spent many hours with him conversing and playing backgammon together.

Mossadegh and his wife, Zia al-Saltaneh Samii observed Mossadegh’s wife Zia al-Saltaneh as a “chaste”, “pious”, “unassuming”, “harmless”, “delightful” woman who “lived simply” and was full of “love and kindness”. She was patient and never complained, enduring her husband’s incarcerations, exile or demanding schedule which so often kept them physically apart.

At one point, Samii was told the story of the night of their wedding ceremony, when the bride had been placed sitting in the nuptial chamber, covered with a silk veil. Mossadegh, the groom, arrived and proceeded to lift up the veil to see the face of his wife but was quickly taken aback by her heavy make up. Without any hesitation he told her, “Ma’am, what on earth have you done to your face, please go and wash off your face at once”. She did so, and never again wore any make up for the rest of her life!

According to Samii, Zia al-Saltaneh was completely apolitical. She never truly appreciated the magnitude of the task her husband had taken on, nor understood all the fuss about him. One day while she and Samii were drinking tea together, she showed her a signed picture of Mossadegh that she was to give to a local baker “who had been asking for it for weeks”. Zia al-Saltaneh told her, “God forgive me for saying this, people think he is the prophet, they constantly send messages asking for his picture...Allah Akbar”.

At the start of his house arrest, following a three year solitary imprisonment, Zia al-Saltaneh was staying with her husband full time. However, at his urging, she moved to Tehran, since he did not want her to endure the same isolation from the family and grandchildren that he was sentenced to. After that, she would visit him with the rest of her family. When she arrived on her generally weekly visits to Ahmadabad, Mossadegh was full of joy “with sparkles in his eyes and laughter in his heart”. Unlike most women of her time, Zia al-Saltaneh did not conceal her affection for her husband and openly expressed it. Samii was enchanted just watching them together, seemingly lost in their playful togetherness. As long as Zia al-Saltaneh was around, “Mossadegh would pay no attention to others and would only talk with her”.

Even during her weekly visits, Zia al-Saltaneh would not abandon her daily prayers. Mossadegh, who was religious himself, loved to tease her and would gently ask; “Your God...? I want to know why you are bothering him day and night, and what is it that you want from him?”. She would say with a smile, “Go away, what do you know?”

In the summer of 1965, Zia al-Saltaneh was hospitalized in Tehran for pneumonia. For the first time since the coup, Mossadegh requested from the authorities to be allowed to leave the compound to visit his wife in the hospital. The request was denied.

On July 26, 1965, at the age of 84, Zia al-Saltaneh died. Mossadegh never had the chance to say goodbye, and messages of sympathy and condolence from friends and admirers were also not allowed to be printed in the newspapers, since it contained the name “Mossadegh”.

In a letter to a female relative in response to her condolence message, Mossadegh wrote, “I am deeply in pain from her loss...we were married for more than 64 years, during which she put up with all the difficulties I caused...we were both of the same mind and the same opinion. I have now lost my only reason for living”.

“After my mother”, Mossadegh told others, “she was the most influential person in my life”.

The Agonizing Death of Dr. Mossadegh | by Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
The Agonizing Death of Dr. Mossadegh | by Ebrahim Norouzi, MD


Related links:

The Death of Mossadegh, A Final Goodbye (Shirin Samii)

Did Mossadegh Carry a Gun To Protect From Death Threats?

Patriot of Persia Author Christopher de Bellaigue on Mossadegh's Life

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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