University of Ottawa holding virtual memorial for Iran plane crash victims

The University of Ottawa is holding a virtual memorial to mark the anniversary of the Iran plane crash, which killed three students from the school.

Families say grieving complicated with lack of answers on crash, isolation during pandemic

Photos of University of Ottawa students Alma Oladi, Saeed Kashani and Mehraban Badiei, stand on a table in front of a slideshow showing images of Ottawa-area victims, during last year's memorial ceremony at the University of Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The University of Ottawa is holding a virtual memorial to mark the anniversary of the Iran plane crash, which killed three students from the school.

On Jan. 8, 2020, the Iranian military shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 outside of Tehran killing all 176 people on board. The majority of passengers were bound for Canada.

The memorial will stream starting at 11 a.m. Friday. It will include family members, friends and academic mentors of University of Ottawa first-year student Mehraban Badiei and PhD students Alma Oladi and Saeed Kashani.

The university is also planning on awarding the three of them posthumous degrees when in-person convocations are allowed. A scholarship has been established in their memory and was awarded for the first time this year.

Babak Yazdani, vice-president of the Iranian Student Association, said the students were role models and it will be important to continue their legacy.

"What we can do to keep their memories alive is to help the students that are as talented as they were. To have more students like Saeed, more Almas, more Mehrabans here on campus and follow their footsteps," he said.

The memorial will also include a tribute to Fareed Arasteh, a Carleton University biology PhD student, who had traveled to Iran last winter to marry Maral Gorginpour.

That anniversary was bitter reminder for Gorginpour, who has since moved to Canada.

"That day was the toughest one," the 28-year-old said. "He was not only my husband, he was also my best friend."

Fareed Arasteh, a victim of Flight 752, poses in a wedding photo with his wife Maral Gorginpour. (Supplied/Maral Gorginpour)

Gorgianpour said losing Arasteh was like losing her path. She said he dreamed of curing cancer, the disease that had killed his mother, and was quick to offer his help to others.

They had planned to move to Ottawa but when Gorginpour visited in February it was too difficult.

"I wanted to see the place he loved a lot. He was so passionate about his research at Carleton," she said. "When I went to his was so painful that at that moment I understand that I can't stand being there."

‘We are alone’: One year after PS752 crashed in Iran, families are struggling to grieve during a pandemic

3 years ago
Duration 1:16
Deniz Pourazar says the pandemic has made grieving the loss of her mother, Fereshteh Maleki, even more difficult — that, along with the lack of answers about the crash, means “it’s still an open wound” for families, she says.

'An open wound'

Carleton University student Deniz Pourazar's mother Fereshteh Maleki also died in the crash. One of her last memories of her mother is her own wedding, mere days before the crash, now also painfully linked to loss. 

"There is no scar. It's still an open wound for us," she said. 

She said the lack of answers about why the plane was shot down has made it difficult to find closure.

WATCH | Reflecting on loss during a pandemic:

Pourazar said she's returned to her studies to carry on her mother's hope for her life in Canada. She described her mother as an eager learner who brought a wide set of skills to her architecture career.

However, the pandemic has made grieving difficult. While her aunt was able to visit her shortly after the crash, travel restrictions have left Pourazar feeling isolated.

"We're alone in this situation. Because we are from another country, all of us our separated in the whole world," she said. "Sometimes we avoid calling each other because we know we are not there for them if they cry."

Pourazar said virtual memorials have given her some comfort that the victims will not be forgotten.

Starting from the top left, Fereshteh Maleki, Alireza Pey, Mehraban Badiei, Fareed Arasteh, Mansour Pourjam, Alma Oladi, Saeed Kashani and Roja Azadian, are people with close ties to Ottawa who died in the Ukraine International Airlines crash on Jan. 8, 2020. (CBC News)