SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London

Empress Soraya

Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari was the granddaughter of Esfandiar Khan (first photograph below: the first Sardar Asad / the first Samsan Saltaneh).

Her grandmother had sent her two sons to study in different European countries – England and Germany – to ensure the family was kept close to international power. Soraya’s father, Khalil Khan, was sent to Berlin – where he met and married Eva Karl in 1926. The couple then lived in both Isfahan - with its significant German population - and Germany itself – despite Khalil Khan’s unhappiness at being registered in Berlin as a ‘farmer’, after he was told ‘Khan’ did not count as a profession!

After World War Two, Soraya apparently persuaded her father that the family should return to Europe. She went to finishing schools in both Switzerland and England. In 1950, a photograph of her, taken by her Bakhtiari cousin Goudarz Asad (last photograph), was shown to the Shah. He fell in love with her at long distance – and she was brought back to Iran to meet him and his family.