January 8, 2020 marks the two-year anniversary of a tragedy Iranians will never forget. On this date, shortly after 6am, the IRGC shot a passenger plane - Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 - out of the skies over Tehran with two missiles 30 seconds apart. The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport just minutes earlier. All 176 people onboard were killed.
Many on the Kyiv-bound flight were Iranians living in Canada who had returned to Iran over the Christmas and New Year holidays, to visit family and friends and spend some time in their home country. Their lives - those of scholars, engineers, teachers, environmentalists, parents, partners, and 29 children -- were then extinguished, in what Iran's military court later ruled had been a moment of "forgetfulness" on behalf of those that shot it down.
Thousands of others the world over do not plan to be so forgetful. To mark the second anniversary of the tragedy IranWire is republishing some of our first coverage of the Flight 752 disaster, at a time when the victims' names - and fragments of information about their stolen lives - were just beginning to surface. These articles have been refined to reflect some of what has been learned since then.
Reera Esmaeilion: Bright Eyes Buried
One of the first victims of the downing of Flight 752 to be named in January 2020 was Reera Esmaeilion, a nine-year-old girl who perished along with her mother Parisa Eghbalian in the crash. Reera was the only daughter of Hamed Esmaeilion, a dentist and author, and had grown up in Canada. She had gone to Iran with her mother to attend her aunt’s wedding.
Hamed Esmaeilion, author of the books Dr Datis and Gamasiab Has No Fish, now turned his hand to narrating his daughter’s story. With that first sentence he posted online – "Parisa and my Reera were also on the Ukrainian plane” – an earthquake shuddered across cyberspace. Countless people followed the story of Reera's presence in their loved and loving lives; his grief became their grief.
The Canadian writer Zahra Abedi posted a picture of Hamed Esmaeilion's family on her own Instagram page, writing: "I look at the photos of her daughter Reera. This is her first birthday photo... [Here] she is two years old... This is her school day photo. How can anyone write of this loss? I’ve been reading his [Hamed’s] posts on Facebook for many years. I watched his daughter Reera grow up there. Damn all the oppression that has devoured us.”
In May 2019, to mark Reera’s ninth birthday, Hamed had written: “Today is the ninth anniversary. She’s excited and happy about her birthday. In answer to the question, ‘Are you happy? Are you satisfied?’ she laughs and says yes. Her father is not very excited. He is afraid of the day when the answer to this question will not be so. So in order not to hear, he does his best to make life easier. Like Roberto Benigni, he laughs and plays the fool, and says life is nothing but a stupid game. Look! Everything is ridiculous, hilarious."
Hamed Esmaeilion is now leaving for Iran to bury and say goodbye to his wife and little girl. He writes on his Facebook page: "I am going to Tehran to bury my Parisa's dreams and Reera's eyes. There are great loves among three of us that will remain with me until my death, and I will not expose them. I hope that day comes soon. I don’t know anything about the Ukrainian plane. I am going just to bury those bright eyes."
Hamed's friends intend to greet him as soon as he arrives at the airport. They don’t hold good memories of the last time Hamed came to Iran: for his father-in-law's funeral. Zahra Abedi has written: "I remember him ... he came to Iran to bid farewell to the body of his father-in-law, and was taken from the airport. He did not say goodbye ..."
"I read Reera's stories," Prague-based poet and writer Bita Malakouti writes, offering her sympathies to Hamed. "I knew her from Hamed's stories. It was as if I’d spent days and nights with her. I’d returned to Iran, read the book, and gotten to know the world again. How can I endure her stories? How can I believe that this world, colorful, happy, full of opportunities and dreams, world has left her? Dear Hamed, the pain of this grief cannot be shouted with a thousand throats. A world cries in my heart.”
Siavash Ghafouri Azar and Sara Mamani: Just Married
A photo of a young couple at their wedding ceremony also surfaced shortly after the disaster. The pair were Siavash Ghafouri Azar and his wife Sara Mamani. Both were killed aboard Flight 752.
Siavash was the cousin of Babak Ghafouri Azar, a Prague-based journalist. After discovering Siavash's name on the list of confirmed victims, Ghafouri Azar wrote on Twitter: "They had gone [to Iran] to wear a bride and groom’s outfits, to make their remaining loved ones happy, seeing them in those clothes. The migration tragedy of our generation."
Ghafouri Azar told IranWire: "Siavash was well-behaved, cheerful and positive-minded. He and his wife went to Iran for their wedding, and to enjoy the Christmas holidays. They had a wedding party in Tehran 10 days ago. And now..."
Siavash and his wife had both graduated with MAs in mechanical engineering from Concordia University, Canada. Siavash’s former supervisor, Ali Dolatabadi, described him as “very intelligent” and “very kind”, adding: “It was one of the main features of his character: extremely hardworking and very much liked by everyone. Yesterday, I closed my eyes and remembered his smile.”
Faraz Falsafi: The Photographs Remain
Before he was killed aboard Flight 752, Faraz Falsafi had travelled back to Iran on January 4 to attend the wedding of his sister Darya. He had emigrated to Canada years before and graduated with an MA in computer science from McGill University in 2015. His Instagram page is testament to his love of nature and photography; friends spoke also of how much he liked to travel.
Faraz had moved to Quebec after graduating. His close friend Alborz Zamiadi told CBC: “I was very happy that we were close. We went on trips and to the movies together, and watched films. He was not only kind to me, but he was a good friend to all his friends."
One of his sister Darya’s friends, Mohammad Reza Zamani, who had also attended the wedding, wrote on Instagram: “Darya's brother, our friend, was on the plane today. Faraz’s name starts with an F. I tried to look at the list of passengers out of the corner of my eye. Anyone who dies before peace is a tragedy, anyone who dies before having a normal life, anyone who dies before small freedoms is a tragedy, and we are all a tragedy. For years,” he concluded, seemingly referring to the Iranian government, “you killed us all."