'We lost a lot': Halifax vigil remembers victims of Iran plane crash
Politicians, members of the Iranian community spoke at Al Rasoul Islamic Society
Masoud Adibi spoke softly and with laboured breaths as he thanked people who gathered at the Al Rasoul Islamic Society centre in Bedford, N.S., for a vigil Thursday night.
Adibi lost his wife, Dr. Sharieh Faghihi, in the Ukraine International Airlines plane crash Wednesday morning. The Halifax dentist was one of several women who lived in or had ties to Nova Scotia and perished in the crash.
"This tragedy was very, very hard for all the passenger's families, and for Halifax community, even for Canadian people," Adibi said.
Several elected officials, including Premier Stephen McNeil, former colleagues and religious leaders spoke to the hundreds of people present, many of whom are part of the local Iranian community.
"It's a national disaster for Canada, we lost a lot, a huge asset," said Ali Nafarieh, president of the Iranian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia.
For the past several months, he worked with Masoumeh Ghavi at his Bedford information technology company, Hanatech.
"I cannot still believe she's not coming back," he said. "In addition to skills, experience … what she brought to the company, mainly, was energy. All the time she was wearing the smile, beautiful smile, you can see it in her picture … Masi will be missed forever."
McNeil said looking at photos of the people who were on board Flight PS752 has been a reminder of "so much lost potential and the impact this will have on our communities."
"To the family members who are with us today, your depth of loss is unthinkable for many of us. I hope the presence of everyone here is of some comfort that we are here to support you in this journey ahead and to know that you are not alone," said McNeil.
No one at the vigil brought up the development that emerged Thursday afternoon — that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said intelligence now indicates the Ukrainian passenger aircraft was shot down by an Iranian missile, perhaps unintentionally.
McNeil called the tragedy "senseless" and said he could appreciate that even answers might never alleviate the pain of the losses.
Several graduate students on the plane were living in Halifax. Ghavi, 30, was studying engineering at Dalhousie and was travelling back to Canada with her younger sister, Mahdieh Ghavi, 20, who planned to study in the city.
Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi were both enrolled in the master of finance program at Saint Mary's University.
Family members of Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad and her daughters, Saba and Sara Saadat, were also at the memorial.
The family lived in Halifax before moving to Edmonton where Choupannejad worked as an obstetrician-gynecologist and her daughters attended the University of Alberta.
"They were honestly the sweetest souls, the smartest people that we had ever met. They were on the way to becoming doctors, their mum was a doctor. I'm just really sad," said the girls' cousin, Fatemeh Saadat.
She and another cousin, Fatemeh Asadi, had Facetimed the sisters before their trip to Iran. Despite the move to Edmonton, they remained close.
Asadi said Saba told her just on Monday about looking forward to a relaxing last semester of undergrad after finishing medical school applications.
"We just love them and we miss them already. Our prayers are with them and their family," said Asadi.
One of the vigil's organizers, Hossein Mousavi, vice president of the Al Rasoul Society, said bringing the community together gives people strength. He said it was moving to see so many politicians attend, in part, because it gives hope the relationship between Canada and Iran might improve.
"Believe me, it helps. Because we don't have any embassy in Canada. It's very difficult for us," he said.
The elected officials offered support to the local Iranian community.
"There are no hyphenated Nova Scotians here. A Nova Scotian is a Nova Scotian is a Nova Scotian and we mourn their loss with you," said MLA Kelly Regan.
Rafah DiCostanzo, the MLA for Clayton Park West, said hearing about the students flying back to Canada reminded her of the trips she made home to Iraq when she was a student. Her mother would start cooking her favourite dishes in the weeks leading up to her return.
"It was such a big celebration to get their daughter who was studying abroad home and it was so hard for me to say bye," she said. "All I want to say tonight is those mothers, I want to thank them for sending their daughters to study in Canada. It takes a lot of guts from mothers and fathers to allow their daughters to come and study.
"We are so lucky here to get the best of the best who want to come and study here. They make our province, our country so much better."
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With files from Elizabeth Chiu