Neda’s mother speaks: “She was a martyr”

2009/11/05

Published in “Süddeutsche Zeitung” on November 5, 2009
http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/125/493471/text/

A wiggily cellphone-video made Neda an icon of the revolt in Iran. Now her mother speaks out about the day when her daughter died: “She was only 26 steps away from her car.”

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Her face is the symbol of resistance in Iran: Neda Agha-Soltan (photo: AP)

It didn’t even last 24 hours before the whole world knew Neda’s face. The student was shot nearby a demonstration against an alleged fraud in the Iranian presidential elections in June.

She was not the only one who died during the heaviest unrests that Iran saw in three decades. But someone videotaped the last moments of Neda’s life with his cell phone. Via internet, in networks like twitter, youtube and facebook the wiggily pictures spread at lightning speed – and the revolt against the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given a face. Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, who according to the official election results was defeated, had called for the protests. He and his supporters accuse the authorities of electoral fraud.

This week, against the backdrop of the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, Neda’s mother for the first time talks about the events. While new protests against the regime are taking place in the streets of Iran’s capital, Hajar Rostami tells CNN the story of her daughter.

Neda, who was a student of tourism and dreaming about traveling to foreign countries, had been a passionate supporter of the revolt against the presidential elections of June 12, her mother says. She herself had been protesting together with her daughter a couple of times. However, on the fateful day that would mark the end of Neda’s life, Rostami could not accompany her daughter.

Therefore, the 26 year old woman went outside together with her music teacher. She was not shot during the demonstration, though, but only on her way home. It is still unknown who shot her. Many supporters are holding the islamic Basij milita responsible for her death. President Ahmadinejad called on the Judiciary to search for impacts from abroad.

“She was only 26 steps away from her car”, says her mother, who has reconstructed the last seconds of Neda’s life. The same day, millions of people watched those seconds in the internet, while Neda’s family was mourning their daughter. It was only on the third or fourth day of the traditional week of mourning that she learned about the video from a relative, Rostami told CNN.

Only much later she could bear to watch the film. “It was incredibly painful”, she says. Since then, she wakes up every morning seeing the look in her daughter’s eyes shortly before she died. “And every night I go to bed with this picture.”

Despite the pain, Rostami is glad that the video exists. The world wide sympathy makes her proud and helps her, she says. During her weekly visits at Neda’s grave she is still being greeted by many people, as if her daughter had died just recently. “They write ‘martyr’ on her tombstone with red ink”, says Rostami. “The authorities keep removing it afterwards.”

She is convinced: “Neda was a martyr for her homeland”. Now she hopes that the people of Iran and the whole world will listen to her story.

In Iran, it is a tradition to give away the belongings of the dead. Yet in Neda’s room everything is still unchanged. Allegedly, the reason for that is a dream in which Neda’s sister had seen the young woman. “I am alive”, Neda had told her sister, according to her mother.

For several weeks after her death the picture of Neda’s face dominated the protests in Tehran. Thousands of supporters replaced their profile pictures in online networks with her picture, changing their profile names to “Neda Agha Soltan”.

During the protests of the pro-Moussavi opposition movement on Wednesday, shots were again fired into the crowd. Several people are said to have been injured and arrested, while nothing has been reported about deaths. The new demonstrations show that the regime’s attempts to suppress the revolt have failed. Again, many young people have taken to the streets – like Neda. Her face remains a symbol of the Iranian Resistance.

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