Full Potential 

The Slain Angels I grew up with

By Ariana Amini, illustrations by Lafi Melo

When I was 9 years old, I watched Neda bleed. I watched her wandering eyes on my tv as her frightened, innocent face faded away beneath the red.

I watched as the people around her, trying to save her life, screamed louder and louder as Neda bled. I watched this horrifying scene, this defining scene of the 2009 green movement, and then I turned off the tv and headed to my friend’s sleepover party. While the other girls laughed and played, I replayed the worst moment of Neda’s life over and over again, trying to understand what I had seen. I never got used to it. Every time I revisited Neda’s life and death, I fell apart. She was a student, a musician, an Iranian woman radicalized by a fraudulent election. And I was a 9 year old radicalized by her. 

When I was 14 years old, I was drawn to Reyhaneh. I was struck by her courage and poise, despite the nightmare that had become her life. In between my world history and Spanish classes, I searched and read every article detailing her trial. I tracked all of it. Reyhaneh was sentenced to death for stabbing her rapist in 2014, but the truth is that she began her death sentence the moment she was carelessly tossed into Evin prison in 2007. She dared to fight back, and the courts of Iran dared to seal her fate and somehow call it a trial. I thought about her all day. I stared at her picture for hours. I read her last words to her mother over and over again. “Do your best to forget my difficult days,” she wrote, “give me to the wind to take away….”


When I was 19, I cried for Sahar Khodayari, the blue girl. Esteghlal’s biggest fan, Sahar snuck into Azadi stadium to watch her blue-colored team play. But she was arrested for being a woman in a soccer stadium, so she set herself on fire. And what a fire she started. Sahar’s daring demonstration of dissidence that determined her death made me realize–as a college student going from one existential crisis to the next–how much I took for granted. I took for granted the freedoms I have. I took for granted not living under a gender apartheid. I took for granted that what separates my fate from Sahar’s is the sheer luck that led my family out of the Islamic Republic and not hers.

When I was 22, I burned for Jina (Mahsa) Amini, a Kurdish woman whose age I not only shared, but whose family name I shared too. I’ve been grieving her as if I knew her. I may not know what her favorite food was or what she wanted to do with her life, but I imagine that Jina was doing what most 22-year-old’s like myself are currently doing–just figuring out who she is. I look at Jina and see Neda’s bleeding face, Reyhaneh’s courageous complexion, and Sahar’s blue-painted skin. I feel like I’ve been grieving them too, all over again. I just don’t know how else to say that I am genuinely aching.

Being Iranian means an almost poetic love for the air of our vatan, for the flavor of ghormeh sabzi, for the sound of santoor, for the smell of esfand. But being Iranian also means carrying an endless burden of constant mourning. It’s a state of being, and a heavy one at that. From our grandparents to our parents to ourselves, we’ve been grieving the loss of our country for 43 years.

I didn’t see the ‘79 revolution, but I inherited it. I am undoubtedly proud that despite all the suppression, our culture has managed to persist; but I can’t help thinking about what could have been. Would our culture be even richer, our pride even stronger, our diaspora even in existence if the ‘79 revolution had never happened? Will we ever get back what we lost?

Nika, Sarina, Asra, Mahsa, Sahar, Reyhaneh, Neda, and all the other nameless, faceless angels–I’m so sorry we couldn’t save you.