"She said that our attendance [in the protest] would be worthwhile even if a bullet hits my heart," her boyfriend recalls.
By RACHEL GEIZHALS, AP, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
In her lifetime, the voice of Iran dreamed of a non-oppressive, democratic country. And in her death, young Neda Agha Soltan has become a symbol for the thousands who share and now dare voice that hope.
Soltan was fatally shot in the chest as she stood at the fringes of a protest in Teheran against government election fraud on Saturday evening. Graphic cellphone footage of the 27-year-old's death, which shows her lying on the ground as blood pours from her mouth and nose, spread like wildfire throughout various media outlets, within the blogosphere and among social networks such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. This has made Soltan, whose first name means "voice" or "call" in Farsi, an international icon and a rallying cry for Iran's new revolutionaries.
"She only ever said that she wanted one thing," Caspian Makan, who said he was Soltan's boyfriend, told The Associated Press. "She wanted democracy and freedom for the people of Iran."
Makan, 37, said he and Soltan met on an Iranian vacation tour to Turkey a few months ago. He had planned on marrying her.
Because of reporting restrictions, the AP could not separately confirm Makan's relationship with Soltan, but he showed it pictures of himself with a woman who he said was Soltan, and she was a friend of his on Facebook.
Soltan, who had a straightforward personality and loved poetry, was not an activist by nature, Makan said.
"She didn't believe that we always have to fight and quarrel and be violent and have death," he said. "There's only one thing [Iranians] must fight and that's ignorance. And you don't fight ignorance with a sword or a gun. You turn on a light."
It was out of character for her, but Soltan wanted to go to the demonstration. She believed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected because of vote-count fraud, and that really upset her.
"She couldn't stand the injustice of it all," Hamid Panahi, Soltan's friend and music teacher who was with her at the demonstration, told the Los Angeles Times. "All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted."
And so Soltan went to the protests, despite the fact that Makan and others warned her not to go.
"I tried to dissuade her from going out in the streets because I'd seen in my work as a journalist that, unfortunately, there are a lot of merciless behaviors," said Makan, who is a photojournalist in Teheran.
Soltan's friend "Golshad," who asked the Times not to publish her real name, said a few people warned Soltan that the protest would be dangerous. She herself spoke to Soltan that afternoon and told her to stay away.
"She said, 'Don't worry. It's just one bullet and it's over," Golshad said.
Soltan's discussion with Makan about attending the demonstration ended along the same lines.
"She said that our attendance would be worthwhile even if a bullet hits my heart," Makan remembered. "Unfortunately, that is how she died, a bullet hit her heart and her lung, and maybe five or six minutes later, she died."
Golshad found out about Soltan's death when an aunt in America phoned to tell her not to go out because of the violence. Her aunt told her about a video that was being broadcasted all over, of a dying girl whose friend was saying, "Neda! Neda!"
Golshad became nervous and tried to contact her friend, but to no avail. When she drove to Soltan's house later and heard the cries from inside, Golshad realized her friend was that Neda.
"Neda! Neda!" Golshad said she yelled. "What will I do?"
Even though the authorities - who knew what an icon Soltan now was - had told Soltan's family and friends to refrain from mourning or eulogizing her, Panahi was not afraid to do so.
"She was a person full of joy," he said about Soltan, who he described as intelligent, caring and funny. "She was a beam of light. I'm so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman."
"For pursuing her goals, she didn't use rocks or clubs," Panahi said. "She wanted to show with her presence that 'I'm here. I also voted. And my vote wasn't counted.' It was a very peaceful act of protest, without any violence."
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