Ripples of grief from Iran air disaster reach Canada's North

Even in the small Iranian communities of northern Canada, many share connections to Iran crash victims.

Even in small, northern communities, many share connections to Iran crash victims

A small group gathers at a candlelight vigil in Iqaluit to pay respects to the 176 passengers who died in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. (Travis Burke/CBC)

A small group of people gathered at Iqaluit's Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum for a candlelight vigil on Saturday, honouring those who died in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752.

"I posted something on our community discussion page, on Facebook, to see if there would be any interest of people to gather," said Iranian-Canadian Iqalummiuq Sima Sahar Zerehi, "and I was shocked that so many people sent messages of support."

The repercussions of the crash that claimed the lives of 176 people, including 57 Canadians, have reached even to the small Iranian communities of Canada's northern capitals.

"It was another [piece of] terrible news in a series of terrible news from the region," said Ramin Mostmand, an Iranian-Canadian who lives in Yellowknife. "This news is really taking a toll on everyone."

In Yellowknife's small Iranian community, as in Iqaluit, many were only one or two degrees of separation from victims of the crash, he said.

Longtime Yellowknifer Roya Yazdanmehr, whose family roots are in both Iran and Ukraine, had a personal connection to Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, a couple killed in the crash.

"This couple were an instrumental force at the University of Alberta for mentoring many students," she said. "My husband was one of those students."

She said Mousavi made it possible for her husband to study in Canada, where they met and were married.

"I feel deeply indebted to them for their kindness and mentorship, and everything they've done for my husband," she said.

"This has been a week of reflecting on that and seeing how interconnected we truly are," said Yazdanmehr.

A police officer stands guard near debris from Flight PS752, southwest of Tehran. The Iranian government has said the plane was shot down in error. (Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press)

Connecting 'on the level of the heart'

Though at first denied by the Iranian government, the military later acknowledged the flight was shot down in error, what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called a "disastrous mistake."

The incident followed closely on the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani by U.S. forces.

Amid the rising political tensions, Yazdanmehr said she has been asking herself how she can "feel empowered in [her] own community … in a time when it's easy to sink into despair."

She said she's been focusing on small steps, like organizing devotional gatherings, that she can take to "translate grief into action."

"That's been helpful in coping, and remembering that there is so much good in this world, and so many people … who are striving to build a better civilization," she said.

This has been a week of ... seeing how interconnected we truly are.- Roya Yazdanmehr

"I see so much love and coming together, and a shared experience of grief," said Yazdanmehr. "That has been profound…. Perhaps some communities that once felt separate are identifying more so as one."

"In Nunavut, we don't have an Iranian-Canadian community in the same way that we have in other parts of Canada," said Zerehi, who organized Iqaluit's vigil.

"Oftentimes, when you're a part of an immigrant community, you feel that you matter less to Canada and Canadians than others," she said. "It's just beautiful to see people across Canada care."

"We need that support to continue, because the community is going through a very difficult time."

In Yellowknife, Mostmand agreed that the tragedy has brought communities together in grief.

"In tragedies like this, there is always the human sentiment that comes out," said Mostmand. "Ordinary people just connect to each other on the level of the heart, regardless of where we come from."

"That's the humanity that I believe in, that helps me be optimistic amidst all [this] bad news."

With files from Travis Burke, Loren McGinnis, Emily Blake and Lawrence Nayally


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