On Seeing the Death of Neda

Syrian journalist tells of being moved by the death of a woman in a Tehran street.

On Seeing the Death of Neda

Syrian journalist tells of being moved by the death of a woman in a Tehran street.

Thursday, 25 June, 2009
By an IWPR-trained reporter (24-June-09)

When I saw Neda covered in blood in the video clip, I cried hysterically.

I knew that in a few days the world would forget her along with all those who rushed bravely into the streets to defend freedom and democracy in Iran.

But I was particularly affected because I felt she had died not only for her country but also for my freedom.

Before the protests began, I had never even thought that people like Neda brave enough to protest in this way existed in Iran.

After a video clip showing the last minutes of her life spread around the world’s media, Neda Agha Soltan, a young Iranian woman who was shot dead near a protest march in Tehran on June 20, instantly became a symbol of the violent crackdown on the popular uprising.

Since the official announcement that hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the June 12 presidential election, thousands of people have taken to the streets to call for the outcome to be cancelled.

It is no secret that many Syrians don’t really look up to the Iranians. The older generation regard them as alien to their religious beliefs. While the majority of Iranians are Shia, most of the Syrians follow the Sunni strand of Islam.

Young Syrians - especially the westernised ones - are appalled by the numerous restrictive religious rules their Iranian peers are forced to abide by.

For many dissidents in the Syrian opposition, Iranians are viewed negatively because their country backs the regime in Syria and extremist groups in the region.

So, as Syrians, we had always only seen one facet of Iran, that of angry men and women on television shouting “Death to Israel and America” and blindly following their religious leaders.

When we come across Iranians in Damascus, the women are usually draped in black and the men have long beards.

We see them in groups in the old market of Hamidieh weeping and beating their chests as they move towards the tomb of Sayida Roqaya, an important ancient figure for Shia.

So when we saw young Iranians taking to the streets and courageously facing the security forces, we found that a stark contrast.

Today, I hear a growing number of people around me say that they couldn’t believe that Iranians could speak openly about freedom and act so bravely.

I concluded that Iranians were valiant but we had never realised it just like the world still doesn’t know who we, the Syrians, really are.

The protests in Iran have become the most important topic of conversation wherever I go in Syria. Some Syrians were saying, “We wish we were with them.”

Many young Syrians feel a desire to support their peers in Iran but have done so only via the internet. They send messages of support, sign petitions against the suppression of the marches, circulate updates on the protests or join electronic support campaigns.

Exiled Syrian dissidents participated along with Iranians in protests against the Islamic regime in Iran.

Even a political prisoner who is serving two and a half years in jail for supporting democratic change, made a statement from his cell condemning the Iranian regime and praising the Iranian people.

This solidarity stemmed from the fact that freedom matters to people everywhere in the world and because Iran is controlled with an iron fist so we see the Iranians as like us, enslaved and oppressed.

Every young Syrian who prayed for change and wanted to take part in it in Syria was touched after watching young men and women marching in Iran.

The protests reminded us of young dissidents who were sent to jail because they acted for democracy as well as all the prisoners of conscience whose fate is unknown to us since a mutiny in the Damascus prison of Saydnaya was violently quelled a year ago.

We also remembered all those activists we lost because they stood up for their beliefs.

The message we derived from the Iranian uprising was that one could never know when people who are forced to suppress their anger would rise up and tell their story to the world.

As someone who calls for freedom and justice, I got fed up over the last ten years with foreigners asking me questions time after time like, “Are the Syrian people really extremists?” “Do you think free elections would lead to Islamic rule in Syria?” “Aren’t those who call for freedom and democracy just small isolated groups?”

What happened in Iran told the world that people of our region who live under repression do not reflect the regimes that rule them.

It doesn’t matter whether Iranians succeed this time or not. The important thing is that they showed another face of their nation and inspired the people who still live under oppressive systems around the world.

Our hearts are with the Iranians. I hope next time their hearts will be with us and that we won't have to wait too long for that to happen.
Support our journalists