Neda's mom speaks

The mother of the slain Iranian "martyr" talks about seeing the "look of death" on her daughter's face

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published November 5, 2009 12:06PM (EST)

The mother of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman who became a symbol of the Iranian election protests, has granted her first American interview to CNN. When her daughter was shot to death with a single bullet to the chest during an election protest in Tehran on June 20, the brutal murder, captured on video, swiftly went viral, and the phrase “I am Neda” became a rallying cry of support for the Iranian people.

However heartfelt the sentiment may be, a T-shirt-ready phrase doesn’t capture the reality of a life senselessly lost or the grief of a parent. Speaking from Tehran in her native Farsi, Hajar Rostam described the horror of watching her daughter’s life slip away in front of the world. She has seen the video once, she said, and the “look of death” on her child has haunted her every day since. “The look in her eyes at that moment. I wake up with that look in her eyes every morning; I go to bed with the image of that look in her eyes every evening." Despite her loss, though, she said that she had supported her daughter’s participation in the protests and had joined in them herself.

Rostam also described the events of her daughter’s last day, how she had already been tear-gassed, how she was struck down mere steps away from her car as she made her way home. She further told what’s happened since Neda’s murder -- how the family was forbidden to hold a memorial for the girl, how they’ve kept her room as she left it.

Though she granted the interview at what the CNN anchor referred to as “considerable risk to her own safety,” Rostam explained “the look in her eyes in those last moments ... had a story to tell.” So in her death, the mother of Neda, whose name meant “voice,” tells it. Rostam said she visits her daughter’s grave once a week. “People go and write on her grave in red ink the word ‘martyr’” she said. “And the authorities go and wipe it off.”

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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