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.
Darya Toghian: "Go and Bring Darya"
A student of architecture and programming at George Brown College in Toronto, Darya Toghian, 22 years old, chose to visit Iran to spend the holidays with her family. Photos of her published online by her family show bright, shining eyes and a sweet smile. In one of the photos, Darya throws her hair on her shoulder, as if someone is calling her, turning to the camera and smiling. Below the photo is a sentence: "What should I do with you and your memories?"
Darya's mother cannot believe she will never see her again: on some days she sits dressed in white with her eyes closed and asking others to "Go and bring Darya." The last message that Darya had sent to her mother was: "I love you so much, mother, do not worry!" – sent perhaps just moments before the flight took off.
Fatemeh Beikpour, a reporter who attended the funeral of some of the victims of the plane crash, posted a picture after attending the service for Darya, and wrote: "It was Darya's ceremony… I talked to her aunt. I said I'm just one of the people. Everyone's hearts are with you. She told me that her mother does not accept that Darya is gone. She says go and bring Darya. I could not get up from the chair. I cried so much with her. She told me Darya did not like crying; don't cry.”
Shahrzad Hashemi and Maya Zibaei: a Designer Mother and Her Painter Daughter
Shahrzad Hashemi, 45, a painter, interior designer and decorator, emigrated to Toronto, Canada from Iran in 2016 with her husband Mahmoud Zibaei and their daughter Maya. Shahrzad's father was one of the casualties of the 1960s Dhofar War in Oman. Shahrzad, his wife and daughter had decided to travel to Iran for the holidays to see family and friends.
Mahmoud Zibaei, Shahrzad's husband, was supposed to be with them on their return from Iran, but had left for Canada a week earlier to return to work. But Shahrad and her 15-year-old daughter Maya were on Flight 752.
Maya was a keen painter and in the tenth grade at a Toronto school. Her friends say she was looking forward to returning to class.
Mojgan Afshar, Maya’s painting teacher, posted a picture of herself and Maya in Toronto next to an unfinished painting by the young girl. In her post she wrote: "Dear Maya, my talented girl, today all is dark at our studio. Our eyes only see the dark. I cannot hold back my tears when I remember the beautiful smile you always had on your lips. I was calling you every moment today and I hoped you would answer. I hope you are somewhere full of color and light now. I hope I was a good teacher for you: someone who wanted you to always be ambitious. I have no words to show the depth of my grief at losing you."
A relative of Shahrzad Hashemi also posted a picture of Shahrzad to his Instagram account. "How kind you looked in the days before your departure,” he wrote in the caption. "Your hands were in mine and I did not want to let them go. How innocent she was when I hugged my beautiful Maya ... What did you do with our hearts; who will answer your mother's restless cries ... Shiva and Hamid's restlessness ... your husband who was waiting for you to come back? You were so good that everyone is restless because of your absence. You were heavenly and you were placed in heaven. But you should know that you will always be in our hearts ..."
Security forces were present at the funeral of Shahrzad and Maya – as they were for many of the victims of the tragedy. One of mourners, referring to the presence of the security forces, showed thge scale of their presence in a short video posted onlibe and said that, to attend the ceremony, he had to stand far away from the caskets because the authorities were not allowing mourners to pray directly over the remains of the dead.
Mahdieh Ghasemi and Her Children Arsam and Arnika: A Street Mourns
Mahdieh Haji Ghasemi, a successful architect and a mother, who had designed and overseen the development of residential, commercial, office and industrial buildings, was also a member of the Ontario Society of Architects in Canada.
Mahdieh traveled to Iran with her two children, 11-year-old Arsam Niazi and 9-year-old Arnika Niazi, to see another young boy she had fostered. They never returned home.
Mahdieh won an award for her design of a branch of the Tim Horton's coffee shop in Canada – just a few days before traveling to Iran and visiting her family. "We all told her not to board the flight," Nitin Malhotra, who hired Mahdieh five years ago as his deputy at an architecture firm, told a Canadian newspaper, referring to recent protests. But “she was very resilient – and stubborn as well,” Malhotra added.
Mahdieh’s Facebook page shows pictures of family events as well as her husband and children. Her friends have left affectionate messages under the last photo she posted of herself with her family – ending in condolences and disbelief that she and her children are now gone.
When Mahdieh's husband saw the list of victims, he hoped that his family had not been on the flight; at first, he was not sure, since Mahdieh’s name had been written in a different way. But when he received the call from Tehran, he was left in shock.
Sharareh Azizi, a tv presenter and journalist living in London, UK, wrote on her page about Mahdieh Ghasemi: "I come and go, I hope that maybe I have been dreaming. Mahdieh Ghasemi and her children Arsam and Arnika were killed in the crash of the Ukrainian plane. Mahdieh was an architect in Toronto and loved her work and life. How many lives have you [the authorities] turned to ash?"
A neighbor of Mahdieh Ghasemi's family in Tehran posted a picture of her and her children's funeral on Instagram, and wrote: "Our street today mourned three loved ones who lost their precious lives in the Ukrainian flight. Many of us have no peace and are in the shock at this tragedy … The sound of the cries of Mahdieh's sister and mother, and of her husband, who has lost his whole family in the worst possible way, makes this question more and more vivid for me every moment: If your loved ones and family were on this flight, would you still call this tragedy 'human error'?"
The bodies of Mahdieh and her two children are now buried in Tehran's Fayz Garden.