On January 4th 2011, Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi, the younger son of the late Shah of Iran and Farah Pahlavi died of a gunshot wound in his home in Boston, MA. According to his older brother Reza, Alireza suffered from depression and committed suicide. He leaves behind a bereaved family, sympathetic Iranians, both inside and outside Persia, and many non-Iranians all around the globe saddened, mourning, and also wondering what really happened.

The Secretariat of Reza Pahlavi of Iran issued the following obituary on their official website:

His Royal Highness Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi of Iran, son of the late Shah of Iran and Her Majesty Farah Pahlavi, passed away in the early hours of January 4th, in Boston. He is survived by his mother, Her Majesty Farah Pahlavi, his older brother Reza, his sister Farahnaz, and his half-sister Shahnaz.

Born in Tehran on April 28th 1966, Ali Reza attended schools in Iran before traveling to the United States during the Iranian revolution in 1979. He obtained a BA from Princeton University in 1984, a Masters Degree from Columbia University in 1992 and attended Harvard University in pursuit of a PhD. in Ancient Iranian Studies.

Prince Ali Reza was intelligent, sensitive, loyal, and dedicated to Iranian civilization, as well as to his family and friends. His counsel, wisdom and sense of humor will be profoundly missed and always cherished.

My first reaction was a mix of surprise, shock, sadness, sympathy for the Reza Pahlavi family who endured so many tragedies in the past… and a bit of incredulity. After all, the press reported that Alireza committed suicide, which I wouldn’t have expected.

Let’s not forget that the Pahlavi family, including Alireza, bear a heavy responsibility for ensuring the continuation of their dynasty, and a lot of Iranians do count on them, even though there’s not much they can do to undo the damage done to their country but also to their own souls by Khomeini and his horde of followers who proved to be just as ruthless and cruel as the Shah’s secret police SAVAK in dealing with people who dare(d) to express opposing views.

So even if Alireza suffered from depression — so my thinking — his burden should have been sufficient to have prevented him from taking his life. I know all too well how it feels. On one hand, desperately wanting to get out of this life of misery where nothing would ever improve or get better, but on the other hand, being prevented to act, because doing so would inflict the very few people who care a lot of unnecessary pain. I call this deeply desperate state of mind “delayed suicide“, and you wouldn’t know how hard it is to bear, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. But it is (barely) bearable, and life goes on. It feels dull, slow, mortally boring, and occasionally painful and miserable… but that’s the price to pay when you care for people other than yourself, people who love you. A price that responsible people should feel compelled to pay, no matter how high the cost.

That’s why I’ve been surprised, and why my first reaction was: “they, whoever they are, must have murdered Ali Reza. This simply can’t be a suicide. No way!” And as soon as one starts thinking along this line, the usual cui bono questions arise. Was it the long arm of the mullahs? Was it Al Qaeda or some Islamists? Or was it even the Obama administration or some other foreign government, eager to improve its relations with the current government of Iran despite all warnings by the Arab States in the Persian Gulf and others in-the-know? It’s easy to get cynical under those circumstances, cynical and bitter.

However, it now seems that it really was suicide, according to Reza Pahlavi, Alireza’s older brother. A message confirmed by his official statement, which I hope he wouldn’t mind that I reprint here verbatim, because it says it all, and says it best:

Boston, Massachusetts

January 5, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your attendance.

I wish to extend my family’s deep gratitude for the outpour of love and support from so many Iranians, from Iran, our beloved homeland, as well as those around the world; and people of different nationalities whose sympathies and support continues to strengthen our family, knowing that we are not alone as we grieve the tragic passing of my beloved brother, Alireza. Our gratitude also goes to the loving support from this great city of Boston, which served as home to my brother for the past several years.

Depression is an illness, often with tragic consequences; it has unfortunately a universal imprint affecting families around the world without regard to nationality, geography, age, gender or social and economic situation. My family has had its share of dealing with this debilitating illness, but we also realize it is not a tragedy isolated to us; we share this with the millions around the world, particularly those in our homeland Iran suffering from the same.

We mourn today, the succumbing of our beloved Alireza to the weight, pain and daily burdens of this grave illness, and because of its robbing the promise of yet another life, unfulfilled. Alireza will be remembered for many things, foremost among them, his serious passion for the history of the Iranian civilization. He was an accomplished scholar in the field having come here to Boston (Harvard) to complete his studies and research, extending his expertise which began in Princeton and then Colombia.

For those of you who have asked, my Brother left behind his final wishes, including his request for cremation and the remains released into the Caspian Sea, which we shall dutifully fulfill.

We are still finalizing our plans and arrangements in terms of a memorial service which will be shared with our friends around the world in due time.

At this time I would appreciate the media’s honoring my family’s need to privately morn this tragedy.

Thank you.

There’s not much to add.

2010 won’t be missed (except for the great rescue of the Chilean Miners, which reminded me of Michael G. Coney’s great short story The True Worth of Ruth Villiers), but this year started early with its own lot of tragedies and sad news. I hope this ain’t a bad omen for weeks and months to come.