The doctor who got death threats after trying to save the life of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who became the symbol of the anti-government protests in Iran in 2009.
The Gaze of the Gazelle by Arash Hejazi has appeared this week in the Book Bench Section of the New Yorker, under In the News: A New Psycho, Boozy Books:
“In his new memoir, Arash Hejazi recalls the moment Neda Agha-Soltan was shot, during Iran’s Green Movement protests—as he stood next to her.”
Arash Hejazi smokes hand-rolled cigarettes, which he keeps in a silver case. He speaks a considered, professorial English, idiosyncratic only because of his Iranian accent. Despite having endured much since the summer of 2009, he exudes the guileless energy of a very young man (he is 37).
You may not have heard Hejazi’s name before, but it’s likely that you already know something of his story. During the Green Movement protests that swept across Iran in the summer of 2009, Hejazi was standing next to a young woman when she was shot. He bent over her prostrate body as she lay dying, in an unsuccessful attempt to save her life. A video of those events was posted online and soon became international news: images of Hejazi and the tragic girl were transmitted into hundreds of millions of living rooms. That girl was Neda Agha-Soltan, and she became a symbol of a new Iranian generation, their dream of freedom, and the brutal suppression of that dream.
The violent death of Neda Agha-Soltan is perhaps the most watched in history. The astonishing video which depicts her murder shocked the world when it emerged during the protests following Iran’s 2009 presidential elections. Neda, and thousands more like her, believed that the published result which indicated a clear and unprecedented victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a consequence of flagrant electoral fraud. She was shot dead at point blank range by a Basiji, a member of the Iranian regime’s voluntary militia, on a crowded street during a peaceful protest. The Basiji’s tactic on that day was to scatter clusters of demonstrators by shooting one individual in each cluster. Arash Hejazi is the man who can be seen in that video wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. He is fruitlessly attempting to prevent the transfusion of Neda’s blood from inside her chest onto the Tehran pavement.
Arash Hejazi’s open letter to Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Dear Dr Ahmed Shaheed,
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,
I am Arash Hejazi, an Iranian physician, writer, publisher and journalist, and the Doctor who tried to save the young girl shot to death by the Iranian Basij or the pro-government militia, orchestrated by the Revolutiosnary Guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I then spoke up about the circumstances of hear death to the international media and for that I have lost my publishing house in Iran, I have been prosecuted and persecuted, and I have had to go on exile, leaving my family and my life behind.
I read your Special Report with interest, and while I appreciate your efforts on producing an accurate image on the dyre situation of human rights in Iran, I would like to bring to your attention that what you have presented in your report, is just the tip of an immense iceberg of years of undermining human and basic rights of the citizens of Iran.
You didn’t mention,
THIS BOOK IS a story of failure—the failure of the Islamic Republic, despite thirty years of propaganda and political education, to inculcate in a new generation of Iranians faith in the ideology of the regime. The children of the revolution of 1979 have turned their backs on its values; and this was nowhere more evident than in the mass protests against the manipulated presidential elections of 2009. The young joined the protests in hordes; and the regime’s harsh suppression of these protests, along with the widespread arrests, torture and deaths in prison that followed, were the final steps in delegitimizing the Islamic Republic and its barren ideology.
The generation of Arash Hejazi’s parents embraced the revolution; and their children volunteered to defend it when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. But when, as young adults, they took to the streets two years ago to ask, “Where is my vote?” they were mowed down by the regime’s goons and security forces. These young men and women were not afraid. They had fought every effort by the regime to isolate them from the West, and now they used their cell phones and their blogs, their videos and the Internet to broadcast to the world the violence taking place on the streets of Tehran. As Hejazi writes, “We were also a generation that, for lack of anything else to do, spent its time learning. We were the true witnesses of our nation.”
Arash Hejazi is an Iranian writer, publisher, doctor and one of the few to witness Neda Agha-Soltan’s dying moments first-hand, when he captured it on a mobile-phone camera during the 2009 riots. It was his choice to upload the video, whichsparked an international media frenzy over the death of the bright-eyed young woman.
Forced to leave his country and live in exile due to his prominent role as an opponent of the Ahmedinejad regime, it is no surprise that Hejazi comes across as a weary narrator.
Along with Hejazi’s recollections of his youth and experiences in Iran’s publishing industry, The Gaze of the Gazelle is also an account of the nation’s history of uprisings – political, religious and cultural. From being prosecuted by hardline Islamists for his outspoken attitude at college to the difficulties he endures under Iran’s strict censorship regulations, Hejazi spares little in recounting the decline that finally culminated in the incident that put him in the global spotlight.
Hard-hitting and direct, this book provides valuable revelations about a struggle that receivedvery little coverage inside Iran.
On 20 June 2009, Neda Agha Soltan was shot in the heart by a sniper and lay bleeding to death in a backstreet of Tehran. Within hours of her death this young Iranian woman’s dying moments, captured on mobile phones, were appearing on computer screens across the world.
Anthony Thomas’s film tells Neda’s personal story and attempts to find out who this young woman was, how she became a powerful symbol to millions and what she was fighting for.
The film not only shows the plight of the Iranian citizens who peacefully fought to free their country from its current government regime, but also the ongoing struggle the women of Iran face every day in an attempt to live a life free from oppression.
The only way to get to the heart of the story was to work inside Iran, at a time when foreign film-makers are forbidden entry, and Iranians themselves risk arrest and long-term imprisonment if caught filming without official approval.
The film won the Foreign Press Association’s Best TV Feature/ Documentary Award and was among 2011’s Peabody Awards winners list.
(A very nice feedback from an Italian reader of The Gaze of the Gazelle)
Sorry but I write with translator, my name is Romina, I am writing from Italy (ancona-marche). I read the book In the Eyes of the Gazelle (the Gaze of the Gazelle: Negli occhi della gazzella), it was so beautiful!
I tried to understand better what you meant, jihad, Basij, imams, mullahs, jinn, Shari’a, Tudeh and other terms … I have seen many pictures, women with hijab, your wonderful mountains, the lights of Tehran in the evening, the moon, the stars, Iran is really a beautiful world!
I found pictures of Neda when she died, and I have them saved on my PC, sometimes I look at those beautiful eyes that only the Iranian women have … Her smile is forever caught in the middle, then it’s your book, which hit my soul, I would like to thank you for the gift that you gave me, your story, your writing about your life, your emotions … I can never forget!
I thank you very much for what imprinted on my heart!
I’m talking to my friends about your work, I would like to share this excitement with them!
I hug you my friend!
with great affection