Death of Neda Agha-Soltan

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Nedā Āghā-Soltān
Neda Agha-Soltan.jpg
Photo by Caspian Makan
Born23 January 1983
Tehran, Iran
Died20 June 2009 (aged 26)[1]
West of Kārgar Avenue (proposed by some to be renamed Nedā Street)[2] at the intersection between Khosravi and Sālehi Streets,[3]
Tehrān, Iran
Cause of death
Firearm,[4] according to the Iranian media: Ārash Hejāzi or his friend;[5][6] According to Ārash Hejāzi: Basij killed her.[4]
Resting place
Behesht-e Zahrā cemetery, southern Tehran
ResidenceMeshkini Street, Tehrānpars neighborhood, Tehrān[7]
NationalityIranian
Alma materIslamic Āzād University (second semester of Theology)[8][9]
EmployerFamily's travel agency[10]
Known forDeath during the 2009 Iranian election protests
Political party
Known as generally apolitical
 
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Coordinates: 35°43′8.57″N 51°23′30.60″E / 35.7190472°N 51.3918333°E / 35.7190472; 51.3918333

Nedā Āghā-Soltān
Neda Agha-Soltan.jpg
Photo by Caspian Makan
Born23 January 1983
Tehran, Iran
Died20 June 2009 (aged 26)[1]
West of Kārgar Avenue (proposed by some to be renamed Nedā Street)[2] at the intersection between Khosravi and Sālehi Streets,[3]
Tehrān, Iran
Cause of death
Firearm,[4] according to the Iranian media: Ārash Hejāzi or his friend;[5][6] According to Ārash Hejāzi: Basij killed her.[4]
Resting place
Behesht-e Zahrā cemetery, southern Tehran
ResidenceMeshkini Street, Tehrānpars neighborhood, Tehrān[7]
NationalityIranian
Alma materIslamic Āzād University (second semester of Theology)[8][9]
EmployerFamily's travel agency[10]
Known forDeath during the 2009 Iranian election protests
Political party
Known as generally apolitical

Footage of the death of Nedā Āghā-Soltān[11] (Persian: نِدا آقا سُلطان‎ - Nedā Āġā Soltān; 23 January 1983 – 20 June 2009) drew international attention after she was shot dead during the 2009 Iranian election protests.[12] According to Human Rights Watch, "She was a philosophy student who was a bystander to the protests when she was shot in the chest on Kargar Street. At the time of the shooting, Agha-Soltan was not actively protesting, according to her relatives and eyewitnesses. She had been traveling in a private car stuck in traffic several kilometers from the main protests at Azadi Square, and had just stepped out of the car. Numerous witnesses have stated that there were no active clashes between protesters and security forces in the area where she was shot".[13] The murderer of Neda is disputed. According to CNN, BBC, FoxNews she was shot by Basij[14][15] [16] According to Iranian Media, she was shot by Ārash Hejāzi.[5][6] Her death was captured on video by bystanders and broadcast over the Internet[14] and the video became a rallying point for the opposition.[14] It was described as "probably the most widely witnessed death in human history".[17]

Nedā (ندا) is a word used in Classic Persian and modern Persian[18] to mean "voice", "calling" (sometimes understood as a "divine message", but this is not the etymological sense of ندا), and she has been referred to as the "voice of Iran".[19][20][21] Her death became iconic in the struggle of Iranian protesters against the disputed election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Biography[edit]

Āghā-Soltān was the middle child of a middle class family of three children,[22] whose family resided in a fourth floor flat on Meshkini Street in the Tehrānpars district of Tehran.[23] Her father is a civil servant and her mother is a homemaker.[22] She was graduating from Islamic Āzād University, where she had studied Islamic theology as well as secular philosophies, but she withdrew after two semesters of study for two reasons, one being a disagreement with her husband Amir and his family, and the other being the atmosphere and the pressure of the authorities towards her appearance and dress in the university.[24] She was divorced, and according to her mother, had difficulty in finding work because of how employers perceived her.[25]

Āghā-Soltān was an aspiring, underground musician, who was studying her craft through private voice and music lessons.[26] She had studied the violin and had an as-yet-undelivered piano on order at the time of her death.[8] She worked for her family's travel agency.[10] It was in Turkey, more than two months prior to her death, that she met her fiancé, 37-year-old Caspian Makan, who worked as a photojournalist, and filmmaker in Tehran and after that she changed her mind about becoming a tour guide and decided to start photography with him.[22] Āghā-Soltān enjoyed travelling. She had studied Turkish, hoping it would aid her as a guide for Iranians on foreign tours in Turkey.[27]

Those who knew her maintain that Āghā-Soltān had not previously been very political – she had not supported any particular candidate in the 2009 Iran elections[28][29] – but that anger over the election results prompted her to join the protest.[22] Her voice and music teacher, Hamid Panahi, who was accompanying Āghā-Soltān during the protest and can be seen on the video trying to comfort the dying woman, told the media: "She couldn't stand the injustice of it." Panahi went on to state: "All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted."

Confusion regarding identity[edit]

Her name is often miscited as "Neda Soltani". Nedā Soltāni is a different woman, whose Facebook profile photo was mistakenly published in many articles about the incident. She tried in vain to remove her photo from the internet. Finally, Nedā Soltāni had to flee from Iran and was granted asylum in Germany in 2010.[30][31][32]

Circumstances of her death[edit]

On 20 June 2009, at around 6:30 p.m., Nedā Āghā-Soltān was sitting in her Peugeot 206 in traffic on Kārgar Avenue in Tehran.[14] She was accompanied by her music teacher, Hamid Panahi.[28][33] They were on their way to participate in the protests against the results of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.[34] The car's air conditioner was not working well, so she stopped her car some distance from the main protests and got out on foot to escape the heat. She was standing and observing the sporadic protests in the area when she was shot in the chest.[35]

As captured on amateur video,[14] she collapsed to the ground and was tended to by a doctor, her music teacher, and others from the crowd. Someone in the crowd around her shouted, "She has been shot! Someone, come and take her!"[36] The videos were accompanied by a message from a doctor, later identified as Arash Hejazi, who said he had been present during the incident (but fled Iran out of fear of government reprisals):[37]

At 19:05, on 20 June Place: Kārgar Ave., at the corner crossing Khosravi St. and Sālehi st. A young woman who was standing aside with her father [sic, later identified as her music teacher] watching the protests was shot by a Basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight at her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than two minutes. The protests were going on about one kilometre away in the main street and some of the protesting crowd were running from tear gas used among them, towards Sālehi St. The film is shot by my friend who was standing beside me.[3]

Her last words were, "I'm burning, I'm burning!", according to Panāhi.[28] She died en route to Tehran's Shariati hospital.[22] However, the civilian physician who tended to Nedā in the video stated that Nedā died on the scene.[38][39] Hejāzi, standing one metre away from her when she was shot, tried to stanch her wound with his hands. Hejāzi said nearby members of the crowd pulled a man from his motorcycle while shouting: "We got him, we got him," disarmed him, obtained his identity card and identified him as a member of the Basij militia (government paramilitary). The militiaman was shouting, "I didn't want to kill her." The protesters let him go, but they kept the alleged killer's identity card and took many photographs of him.[4] A recent documentary on the shooting contained a previously unseen clip of demonstrators capturing the militiaman seconds after the shooting.[40]

Videos[edit]

A frame from the video of Agha-Soltān's death by gunfire

The videos spread across the internet virally, quickly gaining the attention of international media and viewers.[41] Discussions about the incident on Twitter, using a hashtag of #neda, became one of the "'trending topics'" by the end of the day on 20 June 2009.[14] The incident was not originally reported by the state-controlled Iranian media, but was instead first reported on by international media. The video was shown on CNN and other news networks.[42]

There are three videos depicting her death. One shows her collapsing to the ground, apparently still conscious.[43] The second shows her only after she appears to lose consciousness and begins to bleed heavily.[44] The third video shows her just as she begins to bleed profusely.[45]

In the first video, the cameraman approaches a group of people huddled together in front of a parked car at the side of the street. As he moves closer, she can be seen collapsing to the pavement with a large bloodstain at her feet. Two men, Hamid Panāhi and Ārash Hejāzi, are seen trying to revive her. As seconds pass, her eyes roll to one side and she appears to lose consciousness. Blood begins to pour from her nose and mouth, and screams are heard.[43] The man next to her can apparently be heard speaking in the first video, saying her name:

Nedā, don't be afraid. Nedā, don't be afraid. [obscured by others yelling] Nedā, stay with me. Nedā stay with me![43]

In the second video, the cameraman approaches her and the two men; the camera passes over them and centers on her face; her stare is blank and she is bleeding profusely from her nose and mouth. Loud screaming can be heard.[44]

The videos were awarded the George Polk Award for Videography in 2009.[46]

Alleged killer[edit]

The man accused of killing Nedā Āghā-Soltān was identified as Abbās Kārgar Jāvid, a pro-government militiaman, after photographs of the Basiji’s ID cards appeared on the internet, according to The Times.[47]

Aftermath[edit]

Grave site immediately following burial

After being pronounced dead at Shari'ati hospital, Āghā-Soltān was buried at the Behesht-e Zahrā cemetery in southern Tehran; she was denied a proper funeral by government authorities.[48] The authorities had allegedly set aside empty graves for those killed during the protests. Her family agreed to the removal of her organs for transplanting to medical patients.[35] The Iranian government issued a ban on collective prayers in mosques for Āghā-Soltān in the aftermath of the incident.[49] Soonā Samsāmi, the executive director of the Women's Freedom Forum, who was relaying information about the protests inside Iran to the international media, told the foreign press that Āghā-Soltān's immediate family were threatened by authorities if they permitted a gathering to mourn her.[50] Samsami stated, "They were threatened that if people wanted to gather there the family would be charged and punished."[50]

Caspian Mākān (Āghā-Soltān's fiancé) told BBC: "Nedā had said that even if she lost her life and got a bullet in her heart, she would carry on."[51]

Time and other news sources speculated that because of the widespread attention given to Āghā-Soltān's story by social media networks and mainstream news organizations, she is already being hailed as a martyr.[27][33] There was also speculation that the Shi'ite cycle of mourning on the third (23 June), seventh (27 June), and 40th (30 July) day after a person's death may give the protests sustained momentum, in similar fashion to the Iranian Revolution, where each commemoration of a demonstrator's death sparked renewed protests, resulting in more deaths, feeding a cycle that eventually resulted in the overthrowing of Iran's monarchy.[52]

On 22 June, Iranian presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who were contesting the validity of the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called upon Iranian citizens to commemorate Āghā-Soltān. Karroubi announced his appeal on Facebook, asking demonstrators to gather in the center of the Iranian capital at 4:00 pm local time. The chief of the Tehran Police announced that his department had no involvement in the fatal incident.[1] Later that day, riot police armed with live ammunition and tear gas dispersed a crowd of between 200 and 1,000 protesters who had gathered in Tehran's Haft-e Tir Square. The protests followed online calls for tribute to Āghā-Soltān and others killed during the demonstrations.[53] Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a senior Iranian cleric and vocal critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for three days of public mourning for the death of Nedā.

Cāspian Mākān, following Nedā's death, escaped to Canada. He visited Israel in March 2010 as a guest of Israel's Channel 2 and stated "I have come here out of the brotherhood of nations."[54]

Funeral[edit]

About 70 mourners gathered outside Niloufar mosque in Abbas Abad, where the Āghā-Soltān family attended services. A leaflet posted on the mosque's door read, "There is no commemoration here for Nedā Āghā-Soltān." Many in the crowd wore black. Some recited poems. After about ten minutes, paramilitary forces arrived on motorcycles and dispersed the attendees.[55]

On 23 June, it was reported that, to prevent Āghā-Soltān's family's home from becoming a place of pilgrimage, government authorities told the family to remove the black mourning banners from outside the home.[56]

On 24 June, The Guardian reported the results of interviews of neighbours who said Āghā-Soltān's family had been forced to vacate their apartment some days after her death.[57] Reuters reported that supporters of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi stated they would release thousands of balloons on 26 June 2009 with the message "Nedā you will always remain in our hearts" imprinted on them.[58]

On 31 July 2009, 40th day anniversary of the killings of such youth as Nedā Āghā-Soltān, Sohrāb Ā'arābi and Āshkān Sohrābi was held in Tehran where thousands of Iranians mourned for the loss of the victims.[59] Reports also came of gatherings in the thousands in cities of Rasht, Shirāz and Mashad.[60]

Grave desecration[edit]

Neda Agha-Soltan's gravesite in Beheshte-Zahra, 2011

On 16 November 2009, supporters of the Iranian regime desecrated her grave and removed her gravestone.[40] Later, on 31 December 2009, supporters of the Iranian government defaced the portrait on her grave by shooting at it multiple times.[61]

Iranian government offers CIA conspiracy theory[edit]

Iran's ambassador to Mexico, Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, suggested in an interview on 25 June 2009 that the CIA could have been involved in Āghā-Soltān's death. Ambassador Ghadiri questioned how the shooting was video taped so effectively, asserting that the incident occurred away from other demonstrations. He also stated that using a woman would be more effective in accomplishing the goals the CIA is purported to desire.[62] Ambassador Ghadiri said "the bullet that was found in her head was not a bullet that you could find in Iran." (he thought she was shot in head.) The account of Doctor Hejazi was that Āghā-Soltān was shot in the chest from the front, as there was no exit wound, and the video evidence showing a wound to the chest.[63] Hejāzi was the man seen in the video placing his hands on Āghā-Soltān's chest to staunch her bleeding (as described above under section Circumstances of death). Wolf Blitzer was incredulous that Ghadiri would so boldly offer a conspiracy theory or obvious disinformation as an explanation:

BLITZER: ..You're a distinguished diplomat representing Iran. This is a very serious accusation that you're making, that the CIA was responsible for killing this beautiful, young woman.

GHADIRI (through interpreter): I'm not saying that the CIA had done this. There are different groups. Could be intelligence services, could be CIA, could be the terrorists. However, these are the people who do these things. You could ask Mr. Andreotti, who was an Italian diplomat, whether Gladiators were a secret group related to CIA or not...

Iranian government says she was shot by protesters[edit]

During her Friday sermon on 26 June, the Supreme Leader's appointed speaker, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, said "evidence shows that [protesters] have done it themselves and have raised propaganda against the system."[64] Eye witnesses at the scene of the shooting said Āghā-Soltān was shot by a member of the pro-government Basij militia.[65][66][67] Some of the eye-witnesses say she was shot from the ground, some say from the rooftop.

Ministry of Intelligence files arrest warrant for witness[edit]

Iran's police chief, brigadier general Āhmadi-Moghaddam told the press on 30 June 2009 that the Iranian police and Ministry of Intelligence filed an arrest warrant for Interpol to arrest Ārash Hejāzi, an eyewitness of Nedā's death, for poisoning the international atmosphere against the Iranian government and telling misinformation about Nedā's death by giving his account of the incident to foreign news media.[68] The university branch of female members of Basij held a gathering in Tehran in front of the British embassy, demanding that Arash Hejazi be returned to Iran (as witness or suspect). As they are assumed to be close to the government, it means the government condemns the crime and is pursuing it (their way). According to an Iranian official, announcing her as a martyr is possible.

Iranian government: Videos fabricated by BBC and CNN[edit]

Ezzatollah Zarghami, the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, told the press on 4 July 2009 that the videos of Nedā's death were all made by BBC and CNN.[69][70][71]

In December 2009, Iranian state television aired a report about Āghā-Soltān's death, portraying it as a western plot. In the program, it was argued that Āghā-Soltān simulated her death with accomplices, and that she was killed afterwards, having no knowledge of her partners' intentions.[72]

Government pressure to confess killing was by protesters[edit]

According to The Times, quoted from Mākān and Āghā-Soltān's parents, officials tried to get them to confess that it was opposition protestors that had killed Nedā, and not government militiamen. They were given incentives such as declaring Nedā to be a martyr and giving the family a pension if they complied. Makan and Nedā's family refused the offer.[40] Panāhi was later forced by the government to change his story. The new version of events were retold by Panāhi on state television.[73]

Family accuses security forces of killing[edit]

In December 2009, her family accused the security forces of killing her, although even most western press accounts so far have stopped short of calling it a targeted political assassination. This was the strongest statement the family of Nedā Āghā-Soltān made since her death. This accusation followed the spread of an Iranian government-proposed theory blaming a "conspiracy of western governments" for the killing. Her father told the BBC's Persian service by telephone from Iran: "I openly declare that no one, apart from the government, killed Nedā. Her killer can only be from the government."[74]

Oxford Graduate Scholarship[edit]

The Nedā Āghā-Soltān Graduate Scholarship is a scholarship for post-graduate philosophy students at The Queen's College, Oxford, with preference given to students of Iranian citizenship or heritage. The college received offers from two anonymous donors to establish a scholarship, followed by many individual donations from members of the public and former students of Queen's. The college aims to raise £65,000 to establish the scholarship on a permanent basis. The first recipient of the scholarship is Arianne Shahvis, a philosophy student of Iranian descent, who described the award as "a great honour". In November 2009, Iran's embassy in London sent a letter of protest to The Queen's College, Oxford about the college establishing the Neda Agha-Soltan Graduate Scholarship in Philosophy.[75]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

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External links[edit]