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.
Saeed Tahmasebi and Niloufar Ebrahim: Killed as they Returned from their Honeymoon
Alongside a photograph of a smiling bride and groom, a caption reads: “Eyes will never dry, forever waiting for a mother... photo of Nilou and Saeed, from Tehran to Behesht Zahra Cemetery.”
Young couple Saeed Tahmasebi and Niloufar Ebrahim were at the beginning of their new life together when they boarded Flight P752. They had traveled to Tehran from London to celebrate their wedding and share their happiness with family and friends. It was a joyful celebration and everyone who joined them sent the newlyweds on their way with best wishes for their future. Some friends who had come to Tehran from London with them had flown back on a direct flight, but Saeed and Niloufar wanted to wait for wedding photos from a photography studio and spend a few more days in Tehran before returning to their new life. That's why they chose the flight to Kyiv instead.
They and everyone else they knew were well aware of what was going on, in particular the growing tension between Iran and the United States. They were well aware that US troops had killed Quds Commander Ghasem Soleimani in Iraq and they knew about the Iranian missile attack on Ain Al-Assad base in Iraq and the wave of anxiety that followed. Friends of Saeed and Niloufar were worried about the couple flying, and had been in close contact with them in the days before they left. In fact, Saeed and Niloufar talked to friends just 10 minutes before the flight was due to leave.
"We cannot believe what has happened," Sally Tahmasebi, Saeed's sister, 41, told The Telegraph. "They were a wonderful, beautiful couple and they were so happy together. This is too terrible for words."
Saeed Tahmasebi, 35, was a civil engineer and a British citizen, and was studying part time for a PhD at the Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation at Imperial College London. He was a senior engineer at Laing O’Rouke at the time of his death.
Tahmasebi immigrated to the UK in the early 2000s. He met Niloufar Ebrahim, who was studying for a master's degree in physiology, and they soon fell in love. They married in the UK in December 2019 before traveling to Iran during the New Year holidays to celebrate their wedding with their families.
“It's heartbreaking,” Saeed’s brother-in-law told The Telegraph. He joined Sally at a memorial event at the couple’s home near London. He told the newspaper they were determined to find out what had happened to their loved ones.
Niloufar Ebrahim's Facebook page was testament to the couple’s happy life together: There are photographs of Saeed and Niloufar at parties, out in nature and on walks in the woods, by the sea. They had boarded the plane, hoping for a bright future.
Roja Azadian: A First Trip to Canada That Never Happened
Women in black are standing in a circle. Sad and heavy, they raise their voices to sing a lament. A woman, her hair slightly unkempt, approaches the circle of mourning women, confused and blindfolded, her fellow mourners holding her arms so she does not fall.
This is the funeral of a young woman named Roja Azadian from Sari, the woman’s daughter. The ceremony is called Navajesh in the Mazandaran dialect, and it features a type of mourning song, the lyrics of which are improvised.
Roja’s husband, Mohsen Ahmadipour, had been in Ottawa studying at Algonquin University, and the plan was to bring his wife to join him after the new year. It was to be her first time in Canada, where her husband had already become an official resident.
"Roja's residency status in Canada had not yet been fully resolved," one of Roja’s friends told IranWire in 2020 not long after the plane crash. "She was going to see where her husband lived, studied and worked and apply for permanent residence in Canada. An inconsistency in their ticket booking meant that she and her husband were not able to return together.
"Mohsen called a friend in Ottawa and asked if he could go to the airport to pick up Roja because she was coming alone and he wanted to make sure she didn’t have any problems. When his friend assured him he would, it was arranged that Roja would travel alone and he would go on the next flight and join her. He is now on the verge of insanity."
Ali Hossein Ghazizadeh, a political analyst with a substantial Twitter following, shared the video of the mourning, chanting women grieving for Roja Azadian.”Look at these pictures,” he wrote, and then hinted that as long as the Supreme Leader was in place, mourning ceremonies like this were bound to continue.
Samira Bashiri and Hamidreza Kokab Setareh: Their Love of Animals Lives on
"The ceremony for Samira Bashiri and Hamid Reza Setareh Kokab was so painful,” tweeted journalist Fatemeh Bikapour. “I sat down at the feet of mourning mothers. They said they did not know me. I said: I am nobody, just one of those many people whose hearts are with you, who have been in sorrow and tears for days. She said, 'Do you see me burning, my dear?’ She hugged me. I was ashamed. She cried and cried; what a wrench at my heart."
Bikapour attended some of the ceremonies of those who had died in the disaster. She said she hoped to let the families know that so many people were with them, and to offer some sort of comfort.
Samira Bashiri was a 29-year-old veterinary graduate from the University of Tehran. She worked in Windsor, Ontario, and when she died, her colleagues posted a photograph of Samira's cat and wrote: "Samira, where are you? Barfi is looking for you. Poor cat thinks you will return home soon."
Samira Bashiri’s husband, Hamid Reza Setareh Kokab, was a doctoral student at the University of Windsor. They had only immigrated to Canada a year before, and they had just gone through the citizenship process. They had traveled to Iran to visit family and friends at the first chance they had after passing the exams.
Samira's friends say she had always been a dedicated volunteer, working to help and treat street animals. "Dr. Bashiri had a great spirit and helped animals with the utmost kindness,” one person posted on Twitter. “Her way lives on, her call for kindness to animals continues.”
After the tragedy of Flight P752, the veterinary clinic that Samira worked for before she left Iran announced that it would treat stray animals for free every Thursday in memory of Samira and her husband.
Hamidreza and Samira, known by the nicknames Hami and Sami among their friends, had married many years ago, long before they immigrated to Canada to pursue their careers. “Our mourning for them was confiscated, like so many others," one of their friends said. "The guards came and carried the coffins on their shoulders and left. There was nothing left of their bodies... I wish they would not bother the families so much."