Who is Neda Agha Soltan?
It seems that every revolution or military conflict has a human face. Everyone is familiar with the video or still photograph from the Vietnam conflict showing a VC soldier shooting a civilian point blank in the back of his head, or the video of a single civilian standing up to a line of tanks at Tianenmen Square. Then there is the famous “Afghan girl” whose face was on the cover of National Geographic during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The current revolution in Iran now has its image, its video that represents all the pain and struggle in that country — in a very graphic way.
Neda Agha Soltan is a young girl whose grisly death was captured on video and immediately posted all over the internet. In the video, we see Neda (whose name means “Voice” or “Call” in Farsi) lying on the ground, dying from an alleged sniper’s gunshot which struck her in the heart. The video is graphic, so for the sake of our readers I’ll provide a link to CNN’s milder, censored version, found here — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4wSD04NU7k Other, more graphic videos can be easily found by searching the internet for “Neda Death Video”. Watch at your own risk.
Over the course of the short video, shot on a mobile phone and uploaded to the internet, we see Neda gasping for breath, clutching her wound, looking up at the camera, and eventually dying as blood pours from her mouth and nose. In the background, her father’s screams and desperate cries punctuate the horror of the moment. The video of the death of Neda Agha Soltan will no doubt be the image that most of us remember from the Green Revolution, and may be powerful enough to turn the world’s attention to the crisis in Iran.
What was Neda’s crime? Neda Soltan was a bystander, watching a peaceful pro-democracy protest in the ironically named Freedom Square in the center of Tehran.
Neda Salehi Agha Soltan, 26, has become a national symbol — posters of her face can be seen all over Tehran, and even here in America. Iranian authorities have gone as far as to order citizens to remove the posters — Iranian Revolutionary Guard soliders have even ordered Soltan’s family to take down traditional mourning posters. It is clear that the powers that be in Iran hope to stop Soltan from becoming a martyr, or a rallying figure for protestors already angry about the results of the recent presidential election.
In fact, the family of Soltan has already been forbidden from holding a public funeral or wake for Soltan and are not allowed to hold gatherings in her name. Even worse, the media in Iran (controlled by the government) have made no mention of her death. The government was concerned that any mourning posters would become a place of pilgramage for revolutionaries, and hope to prevent any further gathering of people presumed to be dissidents. To add insult to injury, the family of Neda Agha Soltan will not be allowed to hold a funeral service at a mosque.
Even though it is forbidden by the state, posters of Soltan are as common as green armbands.
We’re learning more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Soltan as her friends and family come forward to detail her last moments.
For instance, her friend and music teacher, a man named Hamid Panahi, spoke with several Western media sources, including the Los Angeles Times, to clear up the mystery of her death. According to Panahi, the car that he and Soltan were riding to Freedom Square in became stuck in traffic and they got out out of the car for some fresh air.
With moments, there was a loud crack, and Panahi saw Soltan collapse to the ground. One bullet, one shot to the chest, and Soltan was near death.
Bystanders claim to have seen the sniper, saying that he was a plainclothes militiaman known in Iran as a Basiji.
Mr. Panahi said that Neda’s last words before she closed her eyes and went unconscious were: “I’m burning! I’m burning!”
What do we know about Soltan? Neda was born in Tehran. She was the second of three children. Her father work for the government earning a modest salary, and her mother is a stay at home mom. Soltan studied Islamic philosophy at Azad university in Tehran before deciding to work in the tourism industry, even taking private lessons in Turkish in order to become a tour guide and lead tour groups abroad.
Friends of Soltan say she loved travelling, having visited Thailand, Dubai, and Turkey. A talented singer, she was a fan of Persian pop music and was taking piano lessons.
Neda Agha Soltan was in no way an activist, according to friends, but was angry about the result of the elections. Her anger drove her to the streets to watch Saturday’s protests in Freedom Square. Though her family begged her not to go, Soltan said she “was not afraid to die”. In fact, a quote from Soltan making the rounds of the internet, whether true or false, is chilling. She told her mother “Don’t worry, it’s just one bullet, and then it’s over.”
Her music teacher, Mr. Panahi, is quoted as saying that Soltan ” . . . couldn’t stand the injustice of it. All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted. She wanted to show with her presence that, ‘I’m here, I also voted, and my vote wasn’t counted’. It was a very peaceful act of protest, without any violence.”
After Soltan was shot, a doctor who was standing nearby attempted to help, ordering Panahi to cover the wound with his hand and apply pressure. In the video, you can see Panahi doing just this, although almost as soon as he applied pressure, her blood begins to flow. A cab driver in the area pulled up and offered to take her to hospital in his car, but Soltan was dead before they could get to the hospital.
Because Soltan was denied any sort of public funeral or mourning, her mourners were forced to travel in groups to the cemetery where Neda was laid to rest on Sunday afternoon. Futher frustrating her friends and family, government officials were standing by to make sure the mourners didn’t “sing her praises loudly or mourn her loss”. To lose a daughter and a friend is one thing, but to be forced not to mourn her is simply wrong.
Mr. Panahi says he is not scared to speak to the media, saying that “they know where I am” and “when they want me, they’ll take me.” His final quote about Soltan speaks volumes about the revolution itself, and the people carrying it out —
“When they kill an innocent child, that is not justice. That is not religion. In no way is this acceptable.”