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.
Shadi Jamshidi: Her Enduring Smile
“I met Shadi in early 2017. We were going to marry soon. We weren’t sure whether we wanted to have kids or not, but her love for her little nephews told a certain story. Besides her enduring smile and her eyes, which I believe were the most beautiful in the world, it was her strong and self-made character that captivated me.”
These are the words of Nima Neyestani, son of the Iranian cartoonist Touka Neyestani, whose fiancée Shadi Jamshidi perished on January 8, 2020, when the Revolutionary Guards shot down Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752.
Shadi was 32. She was a graduate of chemical and petrochemical engineering from Tehran’s Amir Kabir University of Science and Technology, and in 2012 set out for Calgary in Canada to continue her education.
“When she completed her studies, Shadi moved to Toronto in search of a job, hoping for advancement and a better life,” Nima Neyestani told IranWire. “She found job in a big company in her own field and was moving up quickly. She worked very hard.
“She was in Iran when she was told that she had received the promotion she had long been waiting for. A project was due to start in the new year, and she was to be a member of its executive team.”
Nima describes Shadi as a hard-working, above-board and sincere woman: “Shadi was full of passion for life. Full of hope in the future. She was one of those people who couldn’t stay still, always looking for new experiences. She made use of every moment of her life – as though she knew she didn’t have much time left.
“On the day Shadi departed from this world, she was exactly two weeks away from her birthday. She’d always wished we could get a waterside home. She loved water, she loved music, and she abhorred politics. The happiness of others was as important to her as her own.”
Shadi had lost her mother 10 years earlier and knew the agony of losing a loved one. Her father was still in Iran, and she had made the trip back home just to see him again, and for them to visit her mother’s grave together. “She loved her father,” says Nima. “She was very distressed on the day she was leaving. [During the visit] she was constantly reminding me what to do and how to take care of myself. I wasn’t sure why she was telling me these things. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ I told her, ‘I can manage three weeks without you!’. It was as if she knew she wasn’t going to come back.”
The Islamic Republic’s confession to the shooting-down of Flight 752 was met with an outpouring of rage from the victims’ families. Nima’s uncle, the cartoonist, Mana Neyestani, posted a drawing about the shooting down of the plane on Instagram. “Dear Shadi!” he wrote. “Does their shamelessness know no bounds? By honoring Shadi Jamshidi, my nephew’s fiancée, who was on the Ukrainian Boeing plane shot down by the Revolutionary Guards’ two missiles, with title of ‘martyr’, they are trying to distort the truth and history, in the manner of Orwell’s novel 1984. But we will not allow it, as long as we are alive.”
Touka Neyestani, the would-be father of the groom, posted a simple picture of a smiling and happy Shadi Jamshidi. “My dear Shadi. They said it was ‘just human error.’”
Sadaf Hajiaghavand: Strong and Beautiful
Surrounded by gloved and grim-faced security agents, a woman shrouded in black has flung herself over a coffin and is weeping aloud. She is Dr. Maryam Jafari, the mother of Sadaf Hajiaghavand, one of the victims of Flight 752. As the funeral prayers grow louder, so does the sound of the crying. The camera pans over the casket to reach a table overflowing with lit candles, beautiful red rose petals, and the framed picture of a glowing young woman.
Sadaf was 27, a second-year student of human resource management at York University in Ontario, Canada. She was a graduate of Azad University’s architectural program and had emigrated in 2016.
Naz Moayed, a friend of Sadaf who studied at the same university, told York University of her friend’s passion for modeling: “Sadaf worked as a beauty consultant at a health store. Modeling was one of her areas of interest. She posed, with love, for a photography studio in Toronto.”
For a year before the incident, Sadaf had worked with Arash Studio in Toronto, whose main line of work is wedding photography. On its Facebook page, the studio posted pictures of Sadaf, wishing her family and friends their best in the face of the catastrophe. “I [was just informed] that my colleague... Sadaf Hajiaghavand was confirmed among the dead in plane crash in Iran. I extend my deepest sympathies to her family. May the soul of your daughter rest in peace.”
Amir Hossein Samizadeh, Sadaf’s boyfriend, told York University that she always strived to make others laugh: “Sadaf always laughed. She talked in a baby voice and I called her ‘babe’. But the day before flying to Iran she wouldn’t laugh, no matter what I did. She was really uneasy. She was worried about her studies, and because she hadn’t yet packed for her flight.”
According to Amir, Sadaf had planned to stay with her mother in Iran for three weeks: “What makes me so sad is that she was [due] to return on January 6, but I was forced to change her return ticket to January 8 so she could finish unfinished business there.”
Sadaf was also strong in a crisis, Amir said. “I remember a day before her flight to Iran, I was talking to her about one of her close friends, who was suffering from cancer. I told her I was very afraid. ‘Don’t let fear get to you,’ said Sadaf. ‘This is how life is. You have to tell the sorrows to get lost.’”
Neda Sadighi: “A Lasting Impression on Our Souls”
Each of the passengers who died in the downing of Flight 752 by two Revolutionary Guards’ anti-aircraft missiles had their own story. Some were lesser-known than others in the weeks that followed the disaster. One such person was Dr. Neda Sadighi, a 50-year-old ophthalmologist, who lived in Canada and had taken advantage of the new year holidays to visit her elderly father in Iran.
Dr. Sadighi was born in Urmia. She graduated from Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University, was board-certified by Toronto University, became a researcher for the University of Waterloo and worked for Richmond Hill Optical Eyeworks clinic in the York region.
The day before her flight to Tehran, Dr. Sadighi had breakfast with her colleagues at Richmond Hill, and promised to invite all of them for dinner on her return. “At Optical Eyeworks, where she worked for the past six years, staff are still struggling to come to terms with her untimely passing,” wrote the York Region local news website.
“She was so nice and soft-spoken,” one of her colleagues told reporters. “[When I first heard the news] I was in denial. I thought, perhaps it wasn’t her; I was hoping and praying it wasn’t. It’s very hard to accept. She was supposed to be working with us yesterday. She was talking about bringing her nephews over here as well.”
Ali Merali, the owner of Richmond Hill, said Dr. Neda Sadighi would never be forgotten. “She was an amazing person. She left a lasting impression on our souls. She was into personal development and growth and had lots of integrity and kindness in her, she would always go the extra mile.”