The Last Shah of Iran in the Azores
The Shah and his wife, the Shabanu, fled Iran on January 17, 1979, after protests erupted on Tehran’s streets, where the demand for abolishing the monarchy was commanded. Subsequently, the Iranian republic was declared. There were rumors for years of the Shah’s abuses of power, and in 1975 a UN study had estimated that between 25,000-100,000 political prisoners were being held in prisons throughout Iran. The Shah was known for his exuberant lifestyle and lived like a ruling monarch in a fairy tale for decades. Simultaneously, the average Iranian saw their wages stagnant, while they saw western influence penetrate more and more Into their secular country. On January 17, 1979, the shah left Iran on his private 747 while his staff wept at the airport waving off the royal couple for the last time. The Shah and Shabanu were very emotional at this time, and from there, the next leg of their journey would begin. Due to the new Iranian government’s threats to leaders around the World, the Shah, even with his billions in wealth, was finding it very hard to find a country that would allow him to reside there in exile. He first went to Egypt at the request of his friend President Saddat. It was from there that the King of Morroco invited him to stay in Morocco. It was not until February when the Iranian Hostage Crisis took place. A coup was threatened against the King of Morocco and his family that the Shah and Shabanu decided to leave Morocco and prevent any turbulence in Morocco. The King made his private jet available to the couple and their family, and from there, they went to Paradise Island in the Bahamas where he stayed for 3 months and tried to buy the island for just under 500 million USD in 1980 but his offer was refused by the government of the Bahamas. He then went to Mexico for a little bit, finding out the severity of his advanced lymphoma and wanted to keep it a secret from the Mexican government. It was with the help of David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger that he was admitted into the United States for medical treatment for his cancer. This sparked anger and outrage in Iran as they demanded the Shah be returned to Iran. After his cancer treatment in New York, he was admitted to a private island off the coast of Panama, where he paid 21,000 a month, with 300 national guards from Panama being contracted to protect the former Shah while he recovered. Although Panama’s leader did not like the Shah and was opposed to him politically, he thought the Shah had a worth of 2 billion dollars and planned to keep him a prisoner in Panama. With the help of Henry Kissinger, a C-4 was arranged to fly the Shah from Panama to Cairo, Egypt. President Saddat, who was becoming increasingly isolated in the Arab world, had extended to the Shah and his family residency. However, leaders of the world’s great powers argued whether the Shah should be returned to Iran to face a trial or allow him to live in exile. At this time, the Shah was increasingly frail and had lost over 25 pounds and looking skinny friends would describe with the cancer eating away the once vibrant ‘King of Kings’ as he was referred to. On a cold winters night in March, the Shah landed at the US airbase in the Azores on Tercerica Island. The airbase ‘Lajes’ had been leased by the American’s from the Portuguese government during the 2nd world war for refueling purposes and its strategic location in the North Atlantic ocean. On the evening of the 24th, just after midnight, the plane landed at the airbase, and the Shah and his wife were told it was to refuel before the next leg of their journey to Egypt. The Shah and his wife had never heard of the Azores and had to look it up on a map to see exactly where they were. They were not permitted to leave to the airplane, and while the plane refueled, they were left on the plane cold in the dark, looking outside at the American base. After a couple of hours of delays, the Shah’s wife began to worry that a coup was in place to capture them and send them back to Iran. She was not mistaken. The White House was debating whether it was a good idea for Egypt to let the Shah enter, and President Carter called President Saddat of Egypt himself. It is said that President Saddat told President Carter, a friend of his, to worry about his political crisis with his hostages in Iran, and he would handle Egyptian affairs. The Shabanu, the Shah’s wife, wrote in her diary that they always feared their capture while on Terceira island and could not understand why they were there for close to 8 hours. We now know what was going on behind the scenes in the Carter White House, and many speculate that if Carter had the opportunity to prevent them from arriving in Cairo, that he would have taken it. As the refueling trucks and food services trucks were driving in the early morning darkness, with their lights flashing along the runway as they approached the airplane, the Shah and his wife prepared for what they thought was an ultimate betrayal by America and or Egypt. The Shabanu demanded a phone and called her friend in Paris to let them know what was going on and where they were in case anything happened to them. When they saw that it was finally the refueling trucks and food and beverage supplies for the plane, they were relieved. It was not until the aircraft left Portuguese airspace that the Shah and Shabanu finally felt safe. After months of traveling the globe without a country to live in, the plane with the exiled Shah finally arrived in Cairo. It is said that the Shah cried when the plane landed in Egypt as President Sadat was there waiting for him with a military celebration upon his arrival. After being betrayed by friends and allies worldwide and sick and weak with cancer, he finally found a safe haven in Egypt. It must be noted that President Nixon was a loyal friend of the Shah’s, and even though the President was no longer the leader of the free world, he always tried through various diplomatic channels with Henry Kissinger to ensure the Shah found safety. It was in 1979 while in Mexico that President Nixon went to visit the Shah despite President Carter’s request that Nixon not see him.The Shah finally got the surgery he needed while in Cairo that he should have received a year prior but was unable to due to political complications regarding his return to Iran. He lived his last months out in Egypt and was very grateful to both Henry Kissinger and President Saddat of Egypt for their loyalty during the final months of his life. He slipped into a coma on July 27, 1980, in Cairo. President Saddat had a state funeral for him where many leaders paid their respects and flew to Cairo for his memorial. He is buried at the Al Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo where other members of his family had been buried as well.
It’s Terceira, not Tercerica!
It’s Terceira, nit Tercerica!
Great article, but you leave us hanging. What’s the conclusion?