An estimated 500 people crowded into a corner of Sidney’s Shoal Centre to remember the victims of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 on Sunday.
All 176 passengers, including 57 Canadians, died on that flight after an Iranian air-defence missile struck the Boeing 737-800 shortly after it had taken off from the Iranian capital of Tehran on Jan. 8. At least 14 B.C. residents, including Greater Victoria’s Roja Omidbakhsh, a University of Victoria first-year bachelor of commerce student, died.
Organizer Kenny Podmore said during his opening remarks that the vigil gives Peninsula residents a chance to stand alongside “our Iranian brothers and sisters” and to be with them while sharing what they are going through.
“That is all we can do — share,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what they are going through. When Flight PS752 crashed, it was a terrible tragedy that I feel will be on our minds for a very long time, perhaps forever.”
The audience heard from several members of of the local Iranian-Canadian community, including Taaj Daliran, former chair of the Victoria Iranian Persian Cultural Society, who said during his remarks with competing emotions: sadness on one hand, anger and resentment on the other.
The tragedy of Flight PS572 has left Iranians and people around the world in sorrow, mourning, resentment and indignation.
He said later it is hard to imagine the moments when the victims of the flight took their last breath.
“To those of us who knew and loved them, you are in pain through this tragedy,” he said. “As you know so, the passage of time never heals the tragic memories of such a great loss, but you shall continue, because, life won’t stop. Because your loved ones would want you to.”
Sepideh Heydari, a sessional instructor at the University of Victoria, used the occasion to speak about Omidbakhsh, who was in one of her classes.
“It was a huge class, so I didn’t have a chance really to one-to-one connection with everyone, but at one time, I saw her come to my office. She was 23, so young and sweet, and she looked concerned. She came to my office during a time when there was some chaos going on back home. They had an internet shut-down and she didn’t have a chance to talk to her parents. Being away from home for the first time is hard to manage. She was stressed out and missed home terribly.”
But over the course of their conversation, the two of them connected, and Heydari eventually granted her a make-up exam on account of being home-sick. “We hugged and we re-assured each other that it is going to be alright and everything is temporary and going to get better.”
Heydari promised to keep Omidbakhsh’s memory alive and thanked members of the Iranian community, as well as the members of the non-Iranian community for showing so much support and love during this period. “We cannot be happier to be living and to be choosing Canada as a second home. It truly feels like a home to us.”
Speakers during Sunday’s vigil refrained for the most part from making overt political statements, no easy task in light of fact that the incident took place during heightened geopolitical tensions in the region, with several media commentators suggesting that the flight and its victims were collateral damage during the long-running conflict between Iran and the United States.
Amirali Baniasadi, professor at the University of Victoria, also stayed away from such statements, but predicted during his remarks that members of the Iranian community will remember exactly when and where they were when they heard of the crash.
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