Edmonton·Point of View

OPINION | For families and friends of Flight 752 victims, time has stopped

It has been one year since a Ukrainian airliner was shot down over Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, including 138 with ties to Canada. The missiles “shattered the idea of safety and security for many who were not even aboard that flight,” Edmontonian Pegah Salari writes.

Iranian Canadians still searching for answers after tragedy over Tehran

One year after Ukraine International Flight 752 was shot down over Iran, Pegah Salari feels she has come to know the victims, through her involvement with families still fighting for justice. (Social media video via Reuters)

Pegah Salari is an Edmonton-based Iranian Canadian writer. This is the second opinion piece Salari has written for CBC Edmonton since the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020.

Life was supposed to be predictable. 

As Iranian Canadians, we had left our homeland for a better life.

For as long as we could remember, along with the many responsibilities of being a Canadian, came the privilege of belonging to a country, to a system in which we felt safe. 

But after the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 early last year, our perceptions of life as immigrants forever changed.

On Jan. 8, 2020, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down the plane minutes after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

Those two missiles not only brutally murdered 176 innocent people but also shattered the idea of safety and security for many who were not even aboard that flight.

At the time, when everything was so fresh, one big idea lingering in my mind was how "even leaving was not enough" for those victims. 

I kept thinking about how easily I could have been on that flight. And the meaning of safety in my new country shattered in front of my eyes.

'Untrodden path'

To try and cope with this new reality, I got involved. This is a common trait among Iranians. In face of adversity, we get creative, we get to work, we start acting, building a new path.

So I met a lot of new people. Some alive, many, dead! Yeah. I know. I never had the experience of making acquaintance with anyone after they died.

The closest experience I ever had was reading a classic book written by an author who had since died.

A year after the horrific tragedy, I feel as if I had become friends with all those passengers and many of their families. I have watched my new friends in their fight for justice.

The ongoing search for justice is the only thing that keeps some victims' family members alive, Pegah Salari writes. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

It has been an untrodden path covered in obstacles and fear. A year has gone by, yet these families are nowhere near realizing justice.

To this day, they still do not know who killed their children, husbands, wives, parents and friends — or why. They have been threatened, harassed and silenced. 

Funerals and memorial events for their loved ones have been hijacked. The belongings of their loved ones have been stolen.

They have not found any solace with time. Their lives are opaque, and they constantly go back and forth between confusion and rage.

When I am reading their life stories, watching them grieve, following their social media posts or seeing them in person, every conversation ends with a big unanswered question: How can I help?

I have watched them fight. I have watched them try to make sense of things. The truth is, nothing has happened.

'I broke inside'

I met a man who was driving across Canada to find his peace. 

He lost four family members on that flight, including his wife and three-year-old daughter.

When he told me he couldn't get out of his daughter's room for two days, I broke inside.

I searched for the next word. I wanted to talk to him but there was nothing.

"Why do I have to stay alive?" he asked in the most genuine tone. I tried to hide behind others, so he did not see my face covered in tears.

I have become friends with a 30-year-old woman who was on Flight 752. 

I went to her home after her death. A little sticky note with her handwriting on the wall was the first thing I saw that was left of her. Her shoes were still by the door. 

Her husband had left their room untouched. I sat next to her orchids. I know now that she wanted to have a child this past summer.

'Time has stopped'

The truth is, for us, a year has passed. But that horrific day is still as fresh as if it happened yesterday in the minds of their families.

Some of these people have lost their raison d'être. Searching for the truth, shouting for justice is the only thing that keeps them alive.

On the evening of Jan. 8, 2020, mourners gathered outside the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton at a vigil for the victims of Flight 752. (Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press)

This elegy has not and will not come to an end. 

Their demands for justice have been greeted with derision and lies. Imagine a father who has lost his wife and two kids, envying a family who were all together on that flight.

It breaks my heart to write this piece, having nothing new to say. A year has gone by and still, no one has been held accountable and the truth remains hidden. 

How does a man who has been searching in photos of the plane fuselage, hoping to see something that belonged to his child, find closure?

How are people expected to have moved on when they did not see a body to say their goodbyes?

This is an everlasting elegy unless the truth comes out. Unless justice is served. Unless they know why their loved ones were turned into ashes.

For many of us, a year has passed.

For the families of victims, time has stopped.

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About the Author

Pegah Salari is an Edmonton-based Iranian Canadian writer. She is an MBA graduate of the University of Alberta.