TORONTO – Iranian students at the University of Toronto led a remembrance on campus for people – including University of Toronto students – who died when Iran shot down a passenger plane in 2020.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was a passenger flight transporting civilians from Tehran to Kyiv. The Islamic Republic of Iran shot it down on January 8, 2020, apparently mistaking it for an American aircraft.
The Iranian Association at the University of Toronto, or UTIRAN, held the memorial on the anniversary date in honor of those who lost their lives on that terrible day three years ago.
All 176 people on board died, including eight University of Toronto students, 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents of Canada.
Two UTIRAN representatives agreed to speak with a reporter on the condition their full names not be used because of security concerns in Iran. They talked about how incredibly connected they felt to those eight students.
“Any one of us could have been on that plane. We all take the flight from Iran to come to Canada. We feel the same pain,” said Sabha. “We have the same journey. The effect that it had after three years is still very much alive in our minds.”
Held in a room in the Bahen Centre building, the memorial consisted of remembrance videos of the victims, free snacks and fundraising.
For two years, UTIRAN’s fundraising campaign “Be Yade Parvaz” has been raising money for eight underprivileged kids in Iran in honor of the eight University of Toronto lives lost.
In collaboration with Paradise Charity, a registered charity in Canada, they collect donations for the education, food, health, and clothing needs of those eight kids.
Sabha said that $360 would be enough to cover the needs of a child for the whole year.
“Even $5 helps,” she added.
As an association, UTIRAN holds events concerning mental and physical health, to celebrate traditions, and to support students in their educational lives.
Since the start of the protests in Iran, their objective has shifted to more events like this memorial.
They want to bring awareness and help the cause at home in any way they can.
“We are trying to promote Iranian-Canadian culture and anyone is welcome to attend,” Sabha said.
They want to highlight in particular the role that students play in the protests in Iran.
In the 40 years that the Islamic regime has ruled Iran, the current protests, which have been going non-stop for five months, are the longest on record.
“It is more of a revolution. Students our age or even younger have never stopped protesting throughout the whole thing,” said D.S.
“And the government is doing everything it can to suppress the demonstrations: holding people hostage, executing them, beating them, pepper gassing them,” said Sabha. “They are merciless.”
The fear of the Iranian government extends all the way to Canada.
“Even we are afraid of going back home,” said Sabha. “What if they randomly arrest us for no reason?”
D.S. talked about how students need to be cautious hosting these events because the Iranian government can use virtually anything against them. They also talked about feeling survivor’s guilt and wanting to join the protests in Iran.
D.S. explained how women were at the inception of the protests. Women were the first to take to the streets after Mahsa Amini’s death in custody of the so-called “morality police.”
Iran was made to be a man’s world where women’s lives count half as much as a man’s.
“With the protests, men and women finally found their unity. They all realized that it has to be an equal society,” said D.S.
“We just want to be equal. Nothing is working in the country: the economy, the elections…” Sabha said.
The students in Iran don’t get the opportunities that students in other parts of the world can easily access.
D.S. said that the media and news don’t cover the protests as much as they should be covered.
Anyone in Iran who even posts about it on social media can be persecuted.
“So we should do it ourselves. They cut out the internet in Iran, they are voiceless. We can be their voice,” said D.S.
The two Iranian students urged everyone to raise awareness, to post on social media, to make sure that the voices of the Iranian protestors are heard.
Asked if there was anything they would like to add, they repeated the slogan of the current rebellion: “Woman, life, freedom.”
Bilge Nur Güven is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.