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.
Bahareh Karami Moghadam: Writing Until the Last Hour
She speaks in a calm, firm tone. She allows the reporter to offer her condolences and sympathize with her loss. She thanks the reporter solemnly, too, and when they ask her to talk about the daughter that she has lost, she utters just one sentence, but enough to break a heart: “I have nothing to say because the world is over for me.”
Speaking is the mother of Bahareh Karami Moghadam, a young environmental engineer of 33 from Astara on the Caspian Sea. Bahareh graduated from the University of North Carolina and moved to Toronto, Canada in 2012 for work. Before this, she had studied chemical engineering at Tehran University.
Right up until an hour before the Revolutionary Guards shot down Flight 752, Bahareh was still tweeting about the unwelcome news of the tension ratcheting up between Iran and the United States: “Don’t forget! Most of the tensions between the US and Iran subsided after the nuclear agreement. Then Trump came [and] foiled all those efforts.”
On the afternoon of Wednesday, January 8, Francis de los Reyes, a professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University, wrote a bitter message to his engineering students. Bahareh’s name, he said, was on the list of those 176 killed aboard Flight 752.
Prof. de los Reyes felt he ought to tell newer students about a predecessor they had never met. Speaking to the Ottawa newspaper National Post, he said of Bahareh: “I use her as an example. It’s not easy to go to grad school. It’s not easy to come from a foreign country and figure out how to thrive. She did all that. She survived…. I am so proud of her.”
A close relative of Bahareh posted a picture of her on Instagram, writing: “Bahareh, Bahareh! Why did you do this to us, my good girl? You kind girl of the family. We are struck dumb. Who could believe you left us so soon? You join my father, who loved you so much. Give him our regards, you beautiful girl.”
Funeral services for the victims of Flight 752 were by themselves a new round of torture for many of the families. Bahareh’s family was one of many forced to bury her by night, under the supervision of security agents.
Mehraban Badiei Ardestani: Kind in Name and in Life
This poem is handwritten in the margin of a postcard, decorated with hearts and a small Eiffel Tower: “What did you do to my devastated heart?/Look at what you did, my crazy love. Was resting easy in my habitual silken nest/What did you do with the wings of my butterfly?”
Under the picture, we read: “The handwriting of my Mehraban. A poem that I must write on her tombstone.”
From a certain point on, the Instagram page of Dr. Saeed Badiei, father of Mehraban Badiei, has been filled only with pictures of his daughter. Pictures of her burial, of him crying next to her casket, Mehraban’s half-burned student ID card, and before that, selfies featuring the two of them, and other pictures besides – all with a sea of memories behind them.
Mehraban Badiei, born in 2001, was an only child and a first-year student at University of Ottawa’s medical school. She had been learning both English and French since she was 10 years old and was now fluent in both. “My goal in the first year of emigration is to meet new people and make new friends,” she wrote in her diary when she decided to move to Canada to become a doctor.
Her name, “Mehraban”, means “kind” in Persian. A friend of hers told IranWire this was truly the case. “Her name truly became her. I can’t say enough about her kindness. And now I can’t describe how her parents feel.”
Mehraban was friendly and interested in helping other Iranian students, Mana Khosroshahi, president of the Iranian Students Association at the University of Ottawa, told the National Post. She said Mehraban had only been at the university for a couple of months when she volunteered at an orientation meeting sponsored by the association for Iranian high school students in Ottawa. Just two students showed up, but Badiei eagerly talked to them about life at the university.
She lived by herself in Canada after receiving her student visa in 2017. She had finished her last two years of high school education at Woodbridge College in Ontario, then started at medical school.
Pictures of Mehraban on her Facebook page show her next to the traditional decorations for Nowruz, the Iranian new year, around the city and in her home. Today, her parents manage her Instagram account, which has become a memorial to her. Recently they published a picture of Mehraban’s personal effects, which her friends had sent back to her family in Iran: letters of commendation, jewellery, a backpack, a handbag, her glasses. “I will shed tears of blood for each one of them,” her mother writes, “and I will never forget how she was killed unjustly.”
Recently, the government of the Islamic Republic tried to describe the victims of the Flight 752 calamity as “martyrs”. “I hope they’ll tell us why they gave you the title of martyr,” Mehraban’s mother added. “We weren’t at war with anybody. We weren’t even quarrelling with anybody. We had nothing to say about politics. The only thing we wished for was that the University of Ottawa would accept you as an exceptional student so you could pay a tuition fee as low as that of Canadian students, and your poor Papa Saeed would have it easier.
“Our whole world was the first day that we went and found your university. We rejoiced when we set up your room, and we rejoiced when we saw the new henna patterns on your hands. We rejoiced. Now I’ve set up your room again here. But I am not rejoicing. I’m waiting for your national ID card, which you requested two weeks ago, but I am not rejoicing. I’m reading the tens of letters you wrote me when you were a child, but I am not rejoicing! My dear Mehraban, of all the feelings I had, only pain remains; a mountain of pain and loneliness. Will they tell us why they killed you and then called you martyr?”
Delaram Dadashnejad: If Only She Hadn’t Had to Change her Flight
Delaram Dadashnejad was scheduled to take a Lufthansa flight to Iran on December 17 to spend the new year holidays with her family, and was due to return to Vancouver on January 7. But there was a problem with her student visa, and her passport was returned to her on the morning of December 18. She was forced to change her flight. As a result, Delaram, 26 years old and ended up on Flight PS752
Had she survived, she would have been 27 on January 31, 2020. She had a BA in genetics from Tehran University and had emigrated to Vancouver, Canada to continue her education. After completing the required English courses, she entered Langara College to study nutrition. Her friends say she loved her parents and sisters very much.
Delaram’s parents weren’t expecting to see her at that time of the year. On December 17, called to tell them to say she had an outbound flight booked for the next day, but her passport had not yet been returned to her. They thought her trip had been canceled. But the next day, Delaram surprised them with a text message: “I’m heeeeere!”
It was as though the odds were stacked against her. On the way back, Delaram had made a mistake and arrived at the airport late. But at the last minute they opened the gate for her, and she boarded the plane with the other 175 people.
“It’s reported that the flag and the casket were vacuumed and ready,” tweeted Shabnam Shajarizadeh, a resident of California who posted pictures of Delara’s burial. “The mother of the deceased objected to the flag, but the flag could not be removed. [Security] agents quickly buried the body. It was over and done in two minutes.”
In a short published video of Delaram’s burial ceremony, her weeping father pleads with the participants: “In this horrible situation, send the money for these flowers to the flood victims in Sistan and Baluchistan through a trusted channel, to our compatriots who have lost loved ones like me and now have no shelter. Make the soul of my daughter happy by doing this.”