After news broke on January 8 of a plane crash in Iran that killed 176 people — including six U of T students and two community members — vigils were held across all three campuses, bringing people from all walks together to memorialize the lives that were lost. At UTSC, the devastating impact was closely felt by the campus’ Iranian Students’ Organization.
“It was unbelievable what happened, and the body of Iranian students at UTSC sorrowfully responded to it,” said Caspian Forouhar, Vice-President of the Iranian Students’ Organization (ISO), in an interview with The Varsity.
The day after the crash, the ISO, in collaboration with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, organized a vigil in memory of the victims in the UTSC Meeting Place. Forouhar says he was shocked at the turnout, estimating that over 50 per cent of the Iranian students on campus were either present at the vigil or sent messages of condolences.
Forouhar describes the response as “a good indication of the Iranian student body’s willingness to take part in such collective movements.”
“At this time, students probably have sad feelings about it, they’re sorrowful,” Forouhar said, emphasizing that the vigil was held not only to remember the victims, but to support the community of Iranians at UTSC. “We’re trying to form a very friendly space for [them] so that they can feel free to speak up, so that they can ease their pain.”
Forouhar believes that the widespread grief in the community can be attributed to his observations that the majority of Iranian students travel annually to Iran. Consequently, he said, students could easily imagine themselves being on the plane.
He also touched on the likelihood of war between the United States and Iran: “The thing we can be sure of is that the body of Iranian students condemns another war in the Middle East, because, as you can see, every time in such circumstances, it’s civilians who lose their lives.”
At the time of the crash, the ISO had no protocols to follow in case of a tragedy with a similar magnitude. “The ISO dreams about the day that no single human being loses [their] life in such events,” said Forouhar. The organization is now working on establishing some procedures in case of similar events, though Forouhar hopes that they will never need to be used.
The ISO also reached out to the Iranian Association at the University of Toronto (IAUT), based out of UTSG, to offer its assistance for any planned memorials, and to say that it will stand alongside the IAUT in mourning for the losses to the members of both the Iranian and U of T communities. As no UTSC students died in the crash, the ISO cannot receive funding to establish a permanent memorial. However, Forouhar is certain the IAUT will act on such plans and says the ISO “will gladfully help them in the future.”
When asked about the response by the University of Toronto, Forouhar expressed his belief that U of T truly supported the student body in the wake of the tragedy, going on to say, “At this time, it’s not [about] something that the university could do to support us better in better ways. It’s just [that] they did what they could, and we really appreciate it.”
Though Forouhar does know a few students who lost close friends in the plane crash, he says that the entire Iranian community, not only those with personal relationships to the deceased, are remembering the lives lost in this tragic event.
“We hope that at this difficult period of time we can ease their pain somehow. Though nothing brings back the dearest, I believe they will be alive in our hearts forever.”