Thunder Bay

Lakehead community remembers those lost on Ukrainian plane brought down in Iran

Lakehead chemistry professor lost two friends.

Lakehead chemistry professor lost two friends

Around 200 people took part in Saturday's vigil to remember the victims of flight PS752. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Students at Lakehead University took part in a vigil Saturday afternoon to remember those who died when flight PS752 was brought down in Iran Wednesday.

Organizers read poetry, performed music and read out the names of those who died while close to 200 people sat silently in the audience.  Participants later took battery-operated candles outside and laid them on the ground as Indigenous drummers and singers performed. 

Lakehead did not lose any students or faculty members on the doomed flight.  But the vice president of the university's Iranian Cultural Association said part of what affects her about it is knowing it could've been anyone.

"I mean all of those people were hopeful young students who were on their way to bettering their education, furthering their lives, and ... I think it's heartbreaking," said Sara Sadeghi Aval.

Sara Sadeghi Aval read poems in English and Farsi during Saturday's vigil. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"I don't think any of us could really go on with our regular day, go on with classes and everything, and not pause and give it the time that it deserves, the respect that it deserves."

Lakehead professor had friends on the flight

Lakehead chemistry professor Maryam Ebrahimi, who took part in the vigil, knew two of the victims and called the disaster a loss for Canada, for the Iranian Canadian community, and for humanity everywhere in the world.

Ebrahimi became friends with Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand when she came to Canada in 2004 to do her PhD in Waterloo, she said.  They were just finishing their studies and were on their way to Alberta to take up professorships. 

"They had set examples of 'You can succeed in Canada,' so I had looked up to them," she said.

Knowing they're gone, she added, is a feeling she struggles to put into words.

"That affected me a lot," she said. "Each time that I see their pictures on TV, it's just, 'Oh my god, that's Mojgan and that's Pedram." 

Lakehead chemistry professor Maryam Ebrahimi, right, had two friends on the ill-fated flight. Physician Azadeh Mofid, left, said she had mixed feelings about the news that Iran has taken responsibility for accidentally downing the plane. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Several student groups on campus are supporting people most directly impacted by the incident, said James Aldridge, vice provost international at Lakehead.

'six degrees of separation goes out the window'

"It's been really difficult," he said of the past few days as university staff first worked to find out whether any members of the university community were on the doomed flight and then sought to support those who had lost people they knew.

"[With] something like this, I think the rule of six degrees of separation goes out the window," he said. "It's usually just two or three degrees of separation." 

Asked how she felt about the news that Iran acknowledged responsibility for downing the plane by accident, Ebrahimi called the action shameful. 

"It might have been an unintentional act, human error, but that doesn't justify their incompetency," she said. "This cannot be forgiven."  

However, local physician Azadeh Mofid, who also took part in the vigil, said her feelings about the admission were mixed.    

Vigil participants laid small lamps on the ground while Indigenous singers and drummers performed. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"Watching them apologize and accept their mistake, I felt a little bit better.  It actually calmed me down a bit because I was angry, so angry, if they had hidden that," she said.

"I'm happy that they have accepted their mistake, but now that they have accepted their mistake, I have lost my trust about past, present and future.  

Mofid questioned whether Iran would've told the truth if not for international scrutiny, she said.

She wondered if there are other truths that have not come out because of a lack of international pressure, she added. 

And she also wondered aloud about the future. 

professor hoping for peace and unity

"This was one missile that was mistakenly released," she said.  "What about something more if they mistakenly do [it] in future?  They can mistakenly do other stuff that would affect everyone on earth."

Lakehead professor Siamak Elyasi said one of the things that made the disaster so difficult for him was the idea that the victims were "collateral damage" in a politically tense situation.

"I hope it should be some moment that we think about the peace instead of thinking about the war," he said, when describing what he hopes will come out of the tragedy, "and maybe for Canadians it's a good reminder that we have to be united ... and this will hopefully bring more unity instead of divisiveness." 

Elyasi was moved, he said, to see so many non Iranians on the news mourning alongside members of the Iranian community.