Neda Agha-Soltan was a young Iranian living in a country that denied its women an abundance of civil rights. Yet, like any liberated woman who resides elsewhere in the world, Neda had a Facebook page with many friends where she shared her favorite movies and pop celebrities, television shows and music, like “Cinema Paradiso,” Al Pacino, Herculet Poirot and Jennifer Lopez. Acquaintances say Neda was generally known to be apolitical, that is until one tragic night in June.
A shot heard ‘round the world
Though she had little interest in politics, Neda Agha-Soltan (January 23, 1983 – June 20, 2009) decided to join the election protests going on in the Iranian capital, a decision that ultimately ended her life.
On June 20, 2009, Neda and three friends drove to Tehran where they reached Kargar Avenue near the outskirts of the city. The car’s air conditioner stopped working so Neda decided to walk a bit.
Here was a girl who simply wanted to step out of a hot automobile for some fresh air. She instead became the victim of a rooftop gunman who, most witnesses agree, was a government related paramilitary sniper. His fatal blast was a direct bull’s-eye through Neda’s heart.
Footage of Neda’s death, famously caught on a cell phone camera, soon made its way to the Internet where it quickly went viral. Reports of the deadly incident flooded media outlets around the globe. Neda, which is said to mean “voice” in Persian, was suddenly thrust into a role that she would never have wanted nor imagined, that of a political rallying point for the anti-Ahmadinejad masses. Words like “martyr” and “angel” quickly became attached to her prophetic name.
In June 2009, The New York Times reported, “Although Ms. Agha-Soltan, whom her relatives described as unpolitical, was killed on a quiet street and was not participating in any political rally when she was shot, became an instant symbol of the anti-government movement when a video of her death was shared on social networking sites.”
The power of Neda’s loss
In the aftermath that ensued, a spokesman for the Iranian government announced the killing of Neda was due to a Western plot; that didn’t stop her from posthumously influencing others.
Tehran’s ruling regime understood the mounting influence that Neda’s demise was having on Iran’s internal politics, including its “Twitter Revolution.” The result was a secret burial by the government devoid of notification to friends or family. Afterward, when Neda’s relatives located and then visited her grave, they were physically harassed by police. It has been that way for the family ever since. Many watch and hope that Neda’s relations will not mysteriously “disappear” some day.
When she was alive, Neda Agha-Soltan embraced social networking which made her a citizen of an ever shrinking world. Her celebrated legacy, which now includes an Oxford scholarship established in the young heroine’s name, continues to grow. Ironically, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently hailed Neda as a martyr. As it turns out, her poignant death was not in vain.