By now, we all know the story of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman gunned down during the protests last summer. The video of her death made her an instant celebrity. However, it also made another woman, named, confusingly, Neda Soltani, more famous than she ever dreamed.
The confusion began, as so many things do, on Facebook. Supporters of the Green Movement searched for an image of the young martyr online and came up with a picture from her Facebook page. Only it wasn't her page - it was Neda Soltani's. On June 21, less than 48 hours after Agha-Soltan's death, the "Angel of Iran" Facebook page was created, featuring the image of a pretty young Iranian woman wearing a flowered headscarf.
Soltani was working on her graduate thesis at Tehran's Islamic Azad University. She was writing about feminine symbolism in the work of Joseph Conrad. While Soltani did not consider herself a supporter of the regime, she was not involved in the rallies or any of the opposition groups. She was largely apolitical, and wanted to keep it that way. "I worked for 10 long years to get my position at the university," she told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung in February. "I was earning my own money, I had friends, I would go out and I had fun." Unfortunately, once her Facebook picture hit the internet under the name "Neda Soltan," she was shoved into the political limelight and forced to give up her lifestyle.
Initially, Soltani tried to fight the confusion by sending pictures of herself to the Voice of America satellite network with an explanation: I am Neda Soltani, you want Neda Soltan. But VOA decided not to issue a correction, and instead ran the new pictures of Soltani under the pretense that they were "exclusive" images of the dead protester.
Like VOA, the Iranian government did not care much about the mix-up. They, too, saw an opportunity to capitalize on Soltani's slight resemblance to the slain woman. In the picture above, Neda Soltan, 26, is on the left, while Neda Soltani, 32, is shown on the right. Though they are of similar age and have the same color hair, it is clear that the two images are not of the same woman. However, this did not matter. Soltani was pressured relentlessly to testify to the public that she was Neda, and that there never had been a murder to begin with. Soltani refused. Soon after, afraid for her life and her family, she packed a bag and fled to Germany.
Neda Soltani now lives a lonely life as a political refugee in Europe. She speaks no German, and instead of continuing work on her thesis, she has taken up work as an English teacher. Her image still erroneously appears occasionally in connection with Soltan's death (even, once, on this blog). Thanks to a mix-up, spawned by the misleading convenience of a social networking site, Soltani is forever branded as a political dissident in her own country. Soltani says she has little hope for her future. "I've lost everything," she said. "I don't know what I'm doing here, and I don't know how I'll go on."