Amir Bajehkian: Flight PS752—a national tragedy (or is it?)

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      By Amir Bajehkian

      Two years later and it is still fresh. Because our story remains the same: newcomers who have their roots thousands of miles away while trying to get started in their new home. It is the story of our life. And to see that crushed in seconds never gets old.

      With complex events come difficult conversations. But the ability to have those conversations is a sign of collective maturity.

      And we already have many such conversations—be it racial justice after the murder of George Floyd to the cultural genocide of Indigenous people and the discovery of mass graves on the sites of former residential schools, to how we fail as a society in fighting the climate crisis.

      And this is another of those: one of our identity as Canadians.

      When Flight PS752 went down, and it became known that the majority were Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or others on their way to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a "national tragedy". And I witnessed something new.

      For the first time in my 15 years living in Canada (17 years now), the "immigrant" was not some unknown person. They had names, faces, and stories. Each major media outlet covered those stories in detail and introduced every single one of those passengers.

      I remember saying, five decades from today, historians will write about this, the second largest mass death (murder) of Canadians in history, as a turning point in the definition of the "Canadian Identity". That's because these were people who were contributing to their new home in one way or the other. Be it with cutting edge research, healing people, helping to preserve Indigenous culture, community engagement of new Canadians, or just being a neighbour or friend.

      Video: Meet some of the B.C. residents qho perished on Flight PS752.

      The government learned quite a few things from the Air India disaster and did what it had failed to do back in 1985 and the years after. This time, it treated the shooting down of the plane as more or less like a national tragedy. It was not perfect. But it was an improvement.

      But what about the people? I mean us on the ground?

      Yes, mainstream Canadian society was moved by this and did not leave our side and stayed with the Iranian community. Yes, they did care to learn about us.

      But some things could be better. Some things should be better.

      While we, the Iranian community, were the most affected by this tragedy, how much of it registered in our collective memory as the larger Canadian family?

      Did we only try to comfort the Iranian community? Or did we see it as something more significant?

      In other words, is it mainstream?

      And no! I am not talking about right-wing groups using our tragedy to advance their agenda.

      Let me give you an example:

      On April 6, 2018, a truck failed to yield at a stop sign. It crashed into a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team players, killing 16 and injuring 13.

      Rightfully so, the catastrophe shook us as a nation, hence the outpouring of support.

      It is a terrible thing to compare tragedies. BUT, it is fair to ask which one we identified with more?

      Now, I do not have a barometer or gauge. But going through social media accounts of my fellow Canadian acquaintances and even some of the elected officials, it is not hard to tell that the Humboldt Broncos tragedy was more personal for many compared to Flight PS752.

      That was reflected from the hockey sticks outside homes to changing profile pics and even fundraising.

      The crowdfunding for Humboldt Broncos raised $15M in three days, while the fundraising campaign started by Mohamad Fakih's Canada Strong raised $1.8M in five weeks.

      Furthermore, there will be a tribute centre for that tragedy, as there should be for a tragedy that moved the nation.

      Yet, for Flight PS752, families are still trying to build a memorial with minimal support.

      I am not whining here. I just wanted to raise points for improvement. These are just bits and pieces to show a broader pattern.

      I wish the Flight PS752 memorials included expressions of sorrow to the Iranian community and the broader Canadian community as a whole.

      As I said earlier, I want us to be as Canadian as everyone else and share our grief and happiness amongst us all. I want us to be mainstream Canadians.

      I would like to see the stories and memories of those beautiful souls become eternal. I want their legacy to inspire Canadians today and in the future. So having a proper memorial is just the beginning.

      We make one of them part of our daily conversation when we name the school library after the student lost in that flight. When the university lab is named after the fallen researchers, it shows that she and her work mattered.

      When we name the hospital after the physician who was healing her people and perished on that plane, we remind ourselves who we are. And when we honour the academic who dedicated her life to conservation through reconciliation, we remind the next generation what matters in this life. Perhaps they will pick up where Flight PS752 passengers left off and make a difference in their communities.

      Nowadays, the Iranian community feels lonelier than ever, especially those fighting for justice for the victims of Flight PS752. The ruling thugs of our homeland shot our loved ones and offered zero Justice.

      To them, we don't belong. To them, the souls they took away were not worth much. They don't want anyone to remember our loved ones because then people would ask, "Why did you take them from us?"

      Is it too much to ask that they be remembered among the living? Not just with a facade but with a tribute with substance.

      And in our new home, we want to be as Canadian as you are.

      Is it too much to ask?