U of T starts scholarship fund in honour of victims of PS752 plane crash

University to match all donations for needs-based scholarship

U of T starts scholarship fund in honour of victims of PS752 plane crash

U of T recently announced the launch of the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund in honour of those who tragically lost their lives on the Ukraine International Airlines’ flight PS752 near Tehran, Iran earlier this month. U of T is currently accepting donations, which will be matched by the university at three dollars to every dollar donated for the first $250,000, and dollar-for-dollar beyond the $250,000 threshold.

The needs-based scholarship will be managed by U of T’s enrollment services and will be made available to both graduate and undergraduate students from Iran, or students of any background in Iranian studies at U of T.

Of the flight’s 176 passengers and crew, 138 people with ties to Canada were killed when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard mistook the plane for an enemy aircraft, according to Iranian officials. This incident happened amidst heightened tensions with the US, following the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani. Eight members of the U of T community — six of which were students — were among the victims of the crash.

The scholarship was created in collaboration with David Palmer, U of T’s Vice-President, Advancement; Rahim Rezaie, Associate Director of the International Virtual Engineering Student Teams initiative at the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering; and Mehrdad Hariri, CEO and president of the Canadian Science Policy Centre.

“It really came out of desire to channel in a positive and forward looking way, so I thought that creating a memorial fund to support future students would be a fitting way to honour the legacy of those who perished,” Rezaie commented in an interview with The Varsity.

“I think it’s a tremendous testament to their commitment [and] their desire to contribute and to keep the legacy of our students and others…alive and augment [that] in a practical way.”

The scholarship is a welcome addition to a multi-campus commitment to remembering the lives lost. “It’s a very good opportunity for the Iranians and Canadians, and Canadian culture and Iranian culture to cooperate [and] get closer,” noted Vice-President of the UTSC Iranian Students’ Organization (ISO) Caspian Forouhar.

The ISO held a vigil for the community on January 9, where the names of the U of T students on the passenger manifest were read aloud and condolence banners were signed.

UTSG also saw a memorial service held at the Multi-Faith Centre by the Iranian Association at the University of Toronto the next evening, which was attended by President Meric Gertler and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

A memorial organized by Tigran, an independent Iranian cultural organization, followed both of these events and was attended by politicians from multiple levels of government, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Most recently, Gertler invited the U of T community to participate in a moment of silence with other Canadian universities on January 15. In a previous statement released shortly after the crash, Gertler commented on the situation: “I want to say how deeply saddened we are, and how concerned we are for the families and friends of those who lost their lives.”

He also encouraged students “to seek out the relevant services available on our campuses” through helplines and 24-hour on-campus counselling services.

“I must thank the University of Toronto for all it offered to us, and I can’t say anything but thank you. We really appreciate what they gave us,” said Forouhar. “[U of T] helped other Iranian student associations that are in other campuses to hold vigils even bigger and even larger in content, so the other associations could invite the families of the people that were lost in the crash, and so I can’t say anything but thank you.”

Opinion: “Their stories were our stories”: reflecting on Flight 752

Iran’s political missteps continue to bring irreversible harm to its people

Opinion: “Their stories were our stories”: reflecting on Flight 752

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.

U of T remembers six students who died in Iran plane crash

Community mourns, memorial service held at Multi-Faith Centre

U of T remembers six students who died in Iran plane crash

Students, faculty, and community members came together for a packed memorial service at the Multi-Faith Centre on Friday for the six U of T students, and eight U of T community members overall, who died in the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 plane crash on January 8. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the next day that Iran had mistakenly shot down the airliner, which killed all 176 passengers and crew, including 57 Canadians.

The incident occurred amidst escalating Iran-US tensions this month. Hours earlier, Iran had fired missiles into Iraq, aimed at US and allied military bases in response to the American assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani on January 3.

“On behalf of the entire University of Toronto community, let me say first and foremost how profoundly heartbroken we are,” said President Meric Gertler. “We extend our deepest condolences to the families, the friends, the classmates, and to the teachers of those who lost their lives.”

Following a memorial service held at the Multi-Faith Centre on Friday, a service was also held in Convocation Hall.

Mojtaba Abbasnezhad

Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, 26, was a first-year PhD student in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

Pooya Poolad, a friend of Abbasnezhad, wrote to The Varsity, “He was one of the most talented and intelligent guys I knew.” They had known each other since they studied at the same university for their bachelor’s degrees and reconnected when Abbasnezhad came to U of T.

In the same department, Poolad and Abbasnezhad worked on the same floor in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology and saw each other frequently. “Right before he [left] for Iran, we were sitting at my apartment, planning and dreaming about the future, and thinking what should we do for our PhD,” Poolad wrote.

Mohammad Asadi Lari

Mohammad Asadi Lari, 23, was a second-year joint MD and PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine, and was in the crash along with his sister, Zeynab.

He co-founded and served as the managing director of an organization called STEM Fellowship, a non-profit organization that helps provide opportunities for youth in STEM.

Sacha Noukhovitch, founder and President of STEM Fellowship, wrote that Mohammad “worked tirelessly to develop the organization’s mission and vision.”

STEM Fellowship’s statement describes him as a “visionary,” and adds that “he was also a compassionate leader who went above and beyond – fostering a strong community, developing others’ potential, and inspiring them to unite around a common cause with his humanitarian ethos.” He also co-founded the Canadian Association of Physician Innovators and Entrepreneurs.

“In a program full of stars, Mo shined brightly,” said Professor Nicola Jones of the Faculty of Medicine. She remembered him as someone with broad interests, who was “very passionate about being a clinician-scientist.”

Zeynab Asadi Lari

Zeynab Asadi Lari, 21, was in her fourth year pursuing a bachelor of science at UTM. Matineh Panah, a U of T student who spoke at the memorial service, described Zeynab as “full of life, dreams, hopes,” adding that “she wanted to be a doctor.”

Zeynab also worked at STEM Fellowship, creating its human resources department, and spearheading the creation of a branch of STEM Fellowship at UTM. She was the founder and president of the UTM branch of STEM Fellowship.

The statement on behalf of STEM Fellowship describes her as a “creative, hard-working, committed young leader who made invaluable contributions to STEM Fellowship.”

Zeynab was a health and mental health advocate, serving as a mental health network coordinator for the Youth Mental Health Association, and a Youth Member for Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. “I know if Zeynab was here, she would want me to advocate for mental health,” said Panah.

Mohammad Amin Jebelli

Mohammad Amin Jebelli was a graduate health science student in translational research and a physician.

Jebelli was recognized for his contributions to an online forum for helping international students adjust to international life. “Every time someone would post a question, a concern, he would constantly reply any hour of the night,” said Panah. “He would offer guidance and his help in any form he can… He was just always willing to help.”

He was also remembered for his “kindness to other students” by Professor Joseph Ferenbok of the translational research program. “There are hundreds of people whose lives he touched that recognize him.”

Mohammad Amin Beiruti

Mohammad Amin Beiruti, 29, was a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science.

When Panah spoke with Beiruti’s colleagues, they reported that he was soft-spoken and kind. “He was very careful on how he treated others. He talked with kindness and grace.”

Panah shared an anecdote that when Beiruti could not attend an international research conference, he had a friend present his work for him. “He was passionate about advancing technology.”

“He cared about the impact of his research and wanted to make the world a better place,” said Professor Yashar Ganjali.

Mohammad Saleheh

Mohammad Saleheh, 32, was a PhD student in computer science. Saleheh was in the crash with his wife, Zahra Hasani, a prospective U of T student herself. They had immigrated to Canada only a year and a half ago.

“When I asked about Mohammad Saleheh, everyone talked about his bright mind,” said Panah. “They said he was the humblest genius they knew.”

“It was really my great privilege to know and to work with my PhD student, Mohammad Saleheh,” said Professor Eyal de Lara. They had known each other for three years, working together before Salaheh became a student of de Lara. “He was amazingly good at what he did,” said de Lara. He was also a teaching assistant, and “students really just loved him.”

Opinion: Building a movement: #NoWarWithIran

How we organized a protest against war in a day

Opinion: Building a movement: #NoWarWithIran

Growing up in the United States I was taught to be proud of my cultural background and to embrace multiculturalism, as both of my parents were refugees: my mother a Russian Jew, and my father an Iranian.

As a child, this seemed to be a reasonable request, and in large part, I liked floating between different worldviews. However, as I got older, my cultural background began to surface more in conversations, and I could tell that there was twang of distaste toward a young Russian-Iranian-American girl living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a place that is heavily dominated by government workers and their families.

As far as my classmates were concerned, I was born in the ‘axis of evil,’ considering the fact that my parents were from arguably the most hated nations by the United States.

With time, I realized that the American brand of multiculturalism that I had been brought up with was a hoax. When I moved to Canada, I felt more welcomed by my community — not because of the government or any sort of policy — but because there were people who shared my cultures. This sense of community marked the start of my political activism, and eventually led me to organize a rally against war, following the recent airstrike in Iraq.

On January 3, the Trump Administration conducted an air strike near the Baghdad International Airport, assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s United Nations ambassador spoke up about the events shortly after, and deemed it an act of war. Since then, Donald Trump has threatened to target 52 Iranian cultural and historical sites if Iran retaliated against the American aggression. However, this threat was later rejected by the Pentagon.

Naturally, many of the Iranian Canadians I know, myself included, were outraged. To be clear, it’s not so much a matter of who had been killed, but more so an issue of what Soleimani’s death gestures for the fate of Iran. This seems all too reminiscent of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Yemen — the list goes on — and we decided that we would not idly stand by.

My friend Saman Tabasinejad, a former Ontario New Democratic Party candidate and community organizer, asked if I wanted to help set up a rally to fight against a potential war the following day.

I answered with an emphatic ‘yes.’

Being the naïve first-year that I am, I had no idea how to organize a rally, not to mention arranging one in a single day, but I had the support and guidance of other community members.

The first part of our mission was to make the #NoWarWithIran rally less about Iran and more about the broader issue of American imperialism and militarism. After all, many other countries have been targeted under similar circumstances and we felt that we had a duty to address those injustices as well — especially in a diverse city like ours.

From there, Tabasinejed spoke to some of her colleagues about their protest experiences and found a multitude of speakers from various backgrounds for the event. In the meantime, I created social media accounts for the rally and made digital posters to better circulate the information.

We also faced another pressing question regarding what we wanted our protest to accomplish. There have been far too many occasions where people have banded together to express their anger, but have left without creating any tangible change.

Tabasinejed suggested that we pressure Canadian government officials to take action following the rally; to achieve this goal, we set up a campaign page where people could directly contact their local MPs with a default email that we had drafted.

Frankly, I was unsure of how successful our turnout would be. Only four people had closely planned the rally and we were very reliant on our social media following — but I was wrong to doubt followers of the issue. On January 4, around 300 people mobilized to show their solidarity for the cause — photographers, journalists, representatives from non-profit organizations, and individuals alike — and we seemed to have garnered a strong following. It was a moment of true people power.

And, despite opposition by counter-protestors on the other side of the road, our rally remained peaceful and respectful.

Since the rally, more than 300 people have contacted their local MPs, calling for them to condemn acts of war and to take a stand on the global stage. Activists in Montréal also followed suit, organizing their own rally the following day.

We have pledged to come back and rally until we get a response from our officials. We refuse to let history repeat itself, but it’s also important to address that this rally was by no means intended to support the current regime in Iran.

Iran is undoubtedly a deeply flawed nation and still has a lot of progress to make. However, this change should be brought forth by the Iranian people, not the American government. Despite what we are taught, politics are personal.

Yana Sadeghi is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College.

Six U of T students among victims of plane crash in Iran

President Meric Gertler issues message of condolence

Six U of T students among victims of plane crash in Iran

Six U of T students were passengers aboard Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 leaving out of Tehran, which crashed shortly after take-off. All 176 passengers and crew were killed according to Iranian state media.

According to Global NewsMojtaba Abbasnezhad, a graduate student from U of T, was among the confirmed victims of the crash. Siblings Zeynab and Mohammad Asadi Lari were also among those confirmed to be on the flight by Mississauga News. Zeynab attended UTM and Mohammed was a student at UTSG. Dr. Mohammad Amin Jebelli — a student at the Translational Research Program at U of T’s School of Medicine — was also confirmed to be on the flight.

A university spokesperson has confirmed that two other U of T students were on flight 752: Mohammad Amin Beiruti, a PhD student of the Department of Computer Science, and Mohammad Saleheh, a PhD student and researcher studying computer technology.

“We are continuing to gather information, and taking care to respect the privacy and wishes of all involved,” President Meric Gertler wrote earlier today in a statement expressing the university’s condolences and continued monitoring of the situation.

This story is developing, more to come.

Editor’s Note (January 8, 6:40pm): Article has been updated to reflect new information from a U of T spokesperson.