January 8, 2020 marks the two-year anniversary of a tragedy Iranians will never forget. On this date, shortly after 6am, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (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.
Mojtaba Abbasnejad: From Ahvaz to the University of Toronto
"I predicted that the war would start right before my flight. Dad, forgive me if I did any wrong."
This was last tweet by Soroush, whose real name was Mojtaba Abbasnejad, a doctoral student at the prestigious University of Toronto. "I am going to Iran tomorrow and I cannot sleep because of the excitement,” he wrote on Twitter on December 21, 2019.
Soroush was originally from Ahvaz in Khuzestan province. After emigrating, he continued to pay close attention to his hometown, responding to events that took place there and the many issues it faced. He shared a video of heavy rains in the province in late 2019 that flooded the streets of Ahvaz as well as the houses of the city’s residents. He recalled on social media that whenever it rained when he had lived there, the schools would close. If they didn’t, he added, they had to swim there. “I have a question: is 15 to 20 years a short time to solve this problem? Is the sewage system of a city so complex that after all these years they still can't fix it?”
But he admitted he had a strange relationship with his home country. "The day I left Iran, I did not shed a single tear. I was stressed but not homesick. After my mother died, my roots seem to have been cut everywhere. I do not call anywhere home anymore, not so much that I miss it. Ahvaz, Tehran and Toronto are equally strange to me."
After the plane crash on 8 January, many people commented on this tweet. It’s good that your mother is not here now to endure this huge and terrible loss, many of them wrote.
Arash Pourzarabi and Pooneh Gorji: Newlyweds
Arash Pourzarabi won the World Computer Olympiad and is a graduate of the University of Alberta in Canada. His wife, Pouneh Gorji, also graduated from the same university.
Arash and Pouneh celebrated their wedding four days before they left Tehran for Canada.
"Our dear Pouneh, one of the fine students from Iran’s Farzanegan-1 School, went on her eternal flight following a plane crash,” one of Pouneh’s teachers wrote on her Facebook page. “With a sad heart and a broken tongue, sitting in a corner, I can hear and recite the Hafez poem in my mind:
"Did you see that wise child
What happened to him, this colorful arch?
Instead of the silver tablet next to him
The sky put a heavy plate on his body.”
Arash and Pouneh, their hopes high for the future, traveled to Iran to share the joy of the wedding with their relatives and loved ones. One of Arash's relatives shared a photograph of the bride and groom on their wedding day and wrote: "Come and meet the most beautiful bride and groom in the world. That’s him in high school when I was in middle school. He went to university and I went to high school. And then he applied for university and left Iran. He has always been very far away, but he has always been close to me. My heart was pounding with excitement on this day. You are not only the most loving couple I have ever seen in the world, but the most beautiful, and the best people in my life."
Amir Ashrafi Habibabadi: From Sharif University to Zurich
Amir Ashrafi Habibabadi held a Master's degree in mechanical engineering from Sharif University of Technology and had recently been accepted to a higher education university in Zurich.
One of his wife Fatemeh's social media profile photographs shows their hands clasped in love, delicate wedding rings on the fingers of their left hands. In the background, the sky and spring blossoms.
"Amir had posted a last message on Instagram," said one of his friends, adding that it was like a farewell post.
Fatemeh was also on Flight 752.
Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand: Much-loved Professors in Alberta
Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, were both professors at the University of Alberta. Their two young daughters, Darya and Dorina, were also killed on the flight. Pedram was a professor of mechanical engineering and Mojgan a professor of electrical engineering.
Ghanimat Azhdari: Champion of Biodiversity
Ghanimat Azhdari was a biodiversity specialist and environmental activist, and, according to her friends and family, she had spent considerable time working on cultural and environmental research in Tehran. She had also campaigned for the rights of nomadic and other tribes in various parts of Iran. At the time of her death, she had been studying for a PhD in Canada.
According to environmental journalist Mojgan Jamshidi, Ghanimat was one of the most respected activists and researchers in the field and was well known for her commitment to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were set out in the Convention on Biological Diversity in the early 1990s.
Ghanimat had traveled to Iran during the New Year holidays, during which she also had an engagement ceremony. Her personal Twitter feed is full of videos, photos and reports of her environmental work and activism. In one video, she talks about the then forthcoming 2020 Biodiversity Conference (also known as COP 15) and calls for conservation to be carried out with fairness and in light of all available relevant knowledge. She expresses her hopes and goals, speaking confidently and with enthusiasm.
Arvin Morattab and Aida Farzaneh: A Shared Love of Science
British journalist Saman Rasoulpour reports that another young academic couple were on the flight. "The family of my dear friend Arvin sent me this photo," he said on Twitter, posting a picture of the couple. "Arvin Moratab and his wife Aida Farzaneh , both from Sanandaj, have died in a plane crash.”
Aida Farzaneh's Twitter feed includes numerous photos of her with her husband. The couple were married in 2013 and have pursued their scientific journey in tandem.
According to Sharif University of Technology’s Telegram channel, at least 13 graduates of the university, who were all studying or teaching at Canadian universities after completing their studies in Iran, lost their lives on January 8. Several people pointed out on Twitter that Ukrainian International Airlines was popular with Iranians traveling between the two countries because it was more affordable than many other international airlines.
On social media, there are outpourings of grief for the deaths of these young, brilliant and driven academics, students and activists. IranWire is among those groups and individuals committed to keeping their voices, insight, smiles and enthusiasm alive. They will not be forgotten.
Across social media platforms, Other users have reacted separately to deaths of elites. In subsequent reports, IranWire will narrate the virtual lives of passengers on the plane. The lights on their web pages have been turned off and are supposed to be off forever, but the photos and text they once shared will not be forgotten and their memories will remain.