On January 8, the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 plane was mistakenly shot down by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The crash killed all 176 passengers and crew, including 138 people with ties to Canada.
Sara Mamani and Siavash Ghafouri-Azar had flown to Iran to celebrate their wedding with their families. Iranian weddings are always sure to be parties of unequivocal joy and celebration. Photos from the wedding show a joyous Mamani and Ghafouri-Azar, smiling for the cameras in celebration of their love for one another.
Just a few days later, Mamani and Ghafouri-Azar’s families and friends reconvened at the same banquet hall where they had danced, laughed, and celebrated just a week ago, this time to attend the couple’s memorial. The video of the memorial shows the attendees heaving with sobs as a band plays a somber, classic Persian tune, while the foreground displays a haunting life-sized photo of the couple on their wedding day.
This was Shakiba Feghahati’s first time returning to Iran with her 10 year old son, Rosstin Moghaddam since emigrating to Canada seven years earlier, and they had gone back to visit family.
Feghahati had insisted that her husband come with them, but he decided to stay in Toronto to work so that they could pay their bills with comfort. He couldn’t have imagined that he would never see his wife or child again.
Mandieh Ghavi was travelling to Canada with her older sister, Masoumeh Ghavi, to begin her studies at Dalhousie Medical School. Masoumeh had spoken to friends about how excited she was that her sister would be joining her in Halifax. She was eagerly preparing for the apartment they would get together.
I can only imagine her excitement for her sister’s arrival and the beginning of a new life abroad together, and how much they would have contributed to their communities. I can imagine that Mandieh was riddled with nerves at the prospect of leaving her home for another, but perhaps she was comforted that she was in the company of her sister.
Mohammad Asadi Lari and Zeynab Asadi Lari were siblings, both studying at the University of Toronto. Mohammad was a passionate and hard-working student at the Faculty of Medicine who was actively involved in several organizations that contribute to the community. Zeynab was equally brilliant — a brilliant student, mental health advocate, and humanitarian worker who was sure to be a pioneer in her field.
They both died as they returned from a visit home to be with their families over the holidays.
Mohammad and Zeynab lived in my building. We probably took the same route walking to school, shopped at the same grocery store, and went up the same elevator every day. They both had also resided in British Columbia. They moved to Canada just a few years after I did. We had so much in common, and yet their lives were so unjustly cut short. I walk home now, knowing that a flat in my building is empty, the former home of two bright minds.
The list of heartbreaking stories goes on. A brief survey of the victims aboard the flight paints a telling portrait of the calibre of human and intellectual potential that was lost in this tragedy.
The passengers included students in Canada who left their families to study in their respective fields of science, engineering, and medicine. Some were families with small children. The passengers also included the beautiful couple that had been in Iran to get married, whose wedding photos stood out amidst the charred debris of the flight that scattered across the landscape.
The gravity of this tragedy goes beyond the collective national mourning in Canada. It has brought together Iranian residents in Canada of all walks of life — the wealthy, the poor, the politically engaged, and those that have distanced themselves from Iranian politics.
We were all united not just because of some shared feeling of national belonging, but because any one of us or our loved ones could have been aboard that flight, leaving Iran for Canada. This tragedy holds an immense symbolic pain. It is a loss of potential, of human life, of human kindness, of shattered hopes, dreams, and possibilities.
We weep not just because we feel solidarity with the victims — we weep because their stories were our stories, their loss is our loss. How many of us remember that first flight to Canada, or to the US or the UK? Filled with nervous anticipation — excitement over the prospects of a new life and new freedoms in our new homes — but also holding a deep discomfort in the pit of our stomachs as we left behind our homes, our families, and our collective histories and cultures.
I wonder if Mandieh had similar anxieties. Perhaps, like her fellow passenger Nasim Rahmanifar, she was wondering whether she needed a warmer winter jacket to face the infamous Canadian winters. Maybe she wondered when the next time she would be able to come to Iran would be.
I’m sure many aboard that flight were following the news. I’m sure many were anxious to leave Iran and land in the far safer country of Canada. I’m sure many were pre-emptively feeling homesick for their families, their culture, their homeland.
It is heartbreaking because some of the victims had likely come to Canada to escape the horrors of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to live safely and without fear of losing their lives to political incompetence. And yet they fell victim to it nevertheless. For what reason? For going home to celebrate a wedding? For visiting family they hadn’t seen in eight years? For surprising their mother during a brief break from their studies?
We mourn their loss. We all feel their loss. And we will bring them justice.
This immense, unimaginable grief has rightfully inspired an anger among Iranians, both abroad and in Iran. Iranians have taken to the streets to mourn the victims and to protest the immense political negligence that caused this senseless tragedy. They are being met with violent repression.
While Canadians come to memorials attended by our prime minister, public officials, and politicians, the government that has hijacked our home instead shoots mourners.
Protestors have been calling for Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, to resign. They have been chanting slogans like “shameless!” at Islamic Revolutionary Guards who wield their batons in the face of brave, angry, Iranian protestors, armed with nothing more than an unwavering resolve for justice.
Anti-regime protests are not new in Iran. Little over two months ago, approximately 1,500 Iranians were killed by the regime during mass anti-government protests. The Iranian people want accountability, democracy, and freedom, and have been fighting for such for a while, always inevitably facing gunfire and repression.
But this time, it feels different.
There is an unprecedented anger over this injustice — the Islamic Republic of Iran has taken away 176 innocent, defenseless lives. This tragedy is truly inexcusable. An Iranian State news anchor, Gelare Jabbari, recently wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post, as translated by Farnaz Fassihi of The New York Times, “It was very hard for me to believe the killing of my countrymen. I apologize for lying to you on TV for 13 years.”
The Association of Journalists of Tehran also issued a statement through the Islamic Republic News Agency speaking out against the lack of freedom of the press and the breakdown of public trust in Iran.
The profoundness of the impact of this loss on Iranians across the world is not to be abased. It has inspired a camaraderie so powerful that it is a force to be reckoned with. The protests show us that the Islamic Republic’s murder of those 176 innocent lives on Flight 752 will not go unavenged.
As an Iranian Canadian who left Iran as a child and tried her best to distance herself from Iranian politics but has since felt an unassailable force drawing her to engagement, I say this: the end of the tyrannical rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran is inevitable. Not because of foreign intervention or war or economic motivations, but purely because of the unparalleled strength of Iranian solidarity and compatriotism. Our empathy, care, and solidarity for one another is stronger than any missile or bullet the regime can employ, and eventually, the oppressor will fall, and a free Iran will rise. An Iran that all the Iranians aboard Flight 752 would have been proud to call home.
Sayeh Yousefi is a fourth-year Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies at Victoria College.