On January 8, 2020, a Ukrainian Airlines passenger aircraft was shot down over Tehran by two missiles launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The tragedy, which Iran still insists was the result of "human error", claimed the lives of all 176 people onboard and pitched their families and loved ones into a living nightmare - one they are still living through today.
Among the innocent civilians on Flight 752 were 82 Iranian citizens, 63 Canadians,11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, seven Afghans, three Britons and three Germans. They included doctors, students, athletes, activists and environmentalists: individuals pursuing their own dreams and ambitions both inside and outside Iran, and with bright futures ahead of them.
An international investigation into the incident is underway, spearheaded by Canada, France and Ukraine. But in the meantime, the devastated families of the PS752 passengers are still in limbo. Bereft of either justice or accountability for the disaster that shattered their lives, some of these individuals are now being represented by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, which has published a series of heart-rending personal letters and testimonies to honor those who were killed on January 8.
IranWire is supporting the Association's fight for justice by translating these final tributes into English and publishing them on our pages. We hope that through these efforts, the remarkable lives and aspirations of those aboard Flight 752 will not be forgotten.
Reera, My Little Bird
For Reera Esmaeilion, a PS752 passenger
By Hamid Esmaeilion
Reera was born on May 23, 2010 in Tehran’s Pars Hospital, into a middle-class family.
Her passport picture was taken when she was three days old and suspected of jaundice. On her right shoulder, there was a little mark where they had vaccinated her. She had long auburn hair.
She was six months old when her parents moved to Canada. “You had the best childhood, Reera,” her parents always told her. “For a full two and a half years, day and night, you were with your parents.”
After the emigration, she settled in Toronto. She celebrated her third birthday in the little town of Hanover, Ontario in Canada. This was where her parents worked, where she learnt English and where she lived until age six. It was in this small, small city that she started learning French at her French-language school. From age three, she was also learning piano. By January 8, 2020, when she got on a Ukrainian airliner because she missed her father and wanted to go back home, she had made her choice. Out of swimming, soccer, chess, taekwondo and gymnastics, she had decided to play left defense for Richmond Hill’s soccer team and get a green belt in Taekwondo.
“Is it ok if one doubts God, daddy?,” she had asked her father one day.
“Yes, it’s ok. Why?” her father had responded.
“Today one of the kids told me everybody believes in God,” Reera said. “I told her I had my doubts. They asked me why and I said everything could be a coincidence. All that you claim is orderly could just be a series of accidents. I told them they couldn’t ignore Darwin!”
Her parents looked at one another in shock and said, “It’s good for you to think. It’s good for you to doubt.”
Her critical powers were one thing. Her wonderful humor, quite another.
“You’ve been living with me for nine years but even now, when you make chicken rice with barberries, you keep mixing up the rice and the chicken,” she’d tell her mom.
Her sense of humor was instinctive and explosive. It was deep, sweet, lasting. But she knew how to think and because she thought, she could analyze.
She knew about Canadian politics. She knew who was prime minister, who was the provincial premier, and even the name of the local MP. She followed news of municipal elections and talked to her father about them. Her mother was in charge of her schoolwork. Most of it was writing in Persian, English and French, plus math. She was also invited to piano recitals even though she preferred pop music. She wasn’t too happy with Shawn Mendes dating Camila Cabello.
Reera loved to hang from a high bar, to tie her jacket around her waist, to forget her water bottle, to hang out in the bath and play with dolls, to spend time with legos and to paint with watercolors. She loved to travel and enjoyed seeing new lands. She perused museums with care, she wanted a selfie with the Statue of Liberty, she wanted to drink a glass of Butterbeer at London’s Harry Potter museum to be just like Hermione Granger.
Reera owed her name to Iran’s Mazandaran province. It came from the poetry of Nima Yooshij who had spoken of the goddess of Mazandaran’s Hyrcanian forests, which her grandfather had guarded for many years. “Reera, the little bird,” is what her father called her. Reera loved her name.
“My name is Reera,” she always said. “I am a happy girl, a happy girl.”
Every week she talked to her grandmothers in Iran. Her reading and speaking in Persian was as fluent as it was in other languages. One day she wanted to be a teacher, the next a librarian. One day, a dentist, the next a painter. But she finally decided to become a scientist. She wanted to find a way for kids in wheelchairs to walk again.
In late December 2019, Reera was in grade four. She was writing a commentary on Sherlock Holmes’s The Hound of the Baskervilles when she left for a short trip to Iran with her mother. It was a fun visit. She watched her aunt get married. She danced, she jumped. In her mother’s uncle’s house, she met a chicken that they called Dinosaur. She was given some dolls as gifts: a pink elephant called Ellie and a turtle called Lucky. She bought a full series of Tintin books to show off to her father. Like Captain Haddock, she’d say: “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” She was going to tell her father the details of her trip.
On January 8, 2020, Reera and her mother, Parisa, got on a Ukrainian airliner. Three minutes after take-off, they were shot out of the sky by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Reera had lived all of nine years, six months and sixteen days on earth.
“My daughter,” her father wrote her. “On the day of your tenth birthday, I am sorry. I am sorry and I apologize. I am sorry that I brought a person into this world and after all that beauty, she had three terrible minutes. I am sorry that I couldn’t guard even you, just one person, against the evil of humans and their ignorance. I am sorry that you never saw your teenage years, that you never had a chance to fall in love, that you never saw new lands, that you couldn’t go to university, that disabled children couldn’t get your help, that you couldn’t ride far away on the waves of life. I am sorry that the future for me, for you, for your mother was turned into cold ashes.”
My daughter! Some people killed you and your mother. The hearts of people with consciences beat out of their chests in the intensity of their remorse, and yet some people run roughshod over your blood and even in the city that you lived in, in this very country, some are trying to suffocate the cry for justice for your short life.
My daughter! Nothing is left of me. You were in doubt and without you, now I doubt everything. I doubt love, I doubt beauty, I doubt color, I doubt humans.
My daughter! I taught you so many words but I never got to teach you the word victim. Not until this birthday of yours. Victim means you, your mother, me, your father. Victims of violence, of ignorance, of evil. Victim is Anne Frank, whose story you read.
My daughter, Reera! My little Anne Frank! They burnt you in the Auschwitz of Tehran Airport. You never got to be ten years old. I don’t even know what I would have gotten you other than books. But now nothing has any worth to me. Not even books.
My daughter! Your father promises you that he will take your memory with him everywhere he goes. He will remind all the forgetful people. He will remind the United Nations, the embassies of foreign countries, the ICAO, the parliament, anywhere that people might listen to a call for justice. He will do anything. He will stage sit-ins and strikes. He will shout, he will write letters, he will email, he will meet people. He will do whatever. I will put my life on the line and at the end of this path, the length of which I don’t know, I will come to see you. Until that day.
Reera’s last photo, and a song of Shawn Mendes, in her voice.
Translator: Arash Azizi
Editor: Hannah Somerville