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Foreign Affairs

Remembering Neda

The video of a young woman dying in a pool of her own blood in the streets of Tehran became the most powerful symbol of the "Green Revolution" that was the 2009 Iranian Election protests. It was one of the most widely-witnessed deaths in history, thanks to the Internet. Neda Agha-Soltan was a 26-year-old woman who had studied philosophy and Islamic theology in college. She worked for her family's travel agency, and was an aspiring singer and musician who was gaining in popularity. Prior to 2009 she was never known to be very political. On the evening of June 20th, 2009, she was driving through Tehran with her music teacher and an old friend, going to participate in the protests against what is widely perceived to have been an election rigged by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After exiting the car and beginning to walk on foot, she stood on the outskirts of the major protest areas to watch what was going on. A shot rang out, and Neda collapsed to the ground with a bleeding hole in her chest. Crying, "I'm burning," the young woman died there on the cement. The shot was fired by a government paramilitary militiaman.

The Iranian government was quick to clamp down on the murder of this poor woman. Her family was forbidden from allowing people to gather to mourn her, and collectively praying for her was banned in all mosques in Iran. Her fiance, Caspian Makan, was tortured in an attempt to make him confess that Neda was actually killed by opposition protestors; he eventually managed to escape Iran to Canada. Famed Iranian author Dr. Arash Hejazi, who was present at the scene and tried to stop the bleeding, was forced to flee the country after the Ministry of Intelligence filed an arrest warrant for poisoning the international atmosphere against the government. Iran's Ambassador to Mexico declared that the entire thing was a plot by the CIA, and state television declared that BBC and CNN had personally manufactured the videos as part of a Western plot to destabilize the regime. In the following months, the government's tyrannous boot would stomp out what remained of the protests.

It is worth noting that the name of this unintended hero, Neda, is the Persian word for "voice". She was like so many young people in Iran, a normal girl who wanted her voice to be heard amid the terrible clamor of a theocratic dictatorship. She wanted her voice to be heard in the same way so many of us in the Western world do. I am sure that she did not expect herself to have the impact that she did. In death, her voice is as powerful as ever-- a kindling fire for the people of Iran. Hopefully, someday soon, those people will be able to have their voices heard without fear of government retribution, and will gather together to remember Neda and the countless others who have perished to make that so.
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