By Amir Bajehkian
One year ...
One freaking year!
Soleimani was assassinated, and a regime, drunken from capitalizing on propaganda, promising everyone a “severe revenge”.
And revenge they began...
Attacking U.S. bases in Iraq!
While we all were terrified of what that could mean, especially knowing how Trump can be...Trump, then a little side news came. I heard it from Al Jazeera that an airliner went down just outside of Tehran. Didn’t pay much attention.
Until I did! Until we all did!
Later in that evening, different people on social media groups started circulating names of those they knew who were onboard. Those who lived here in Canada. Then came the next one...and the next one.
And in the morning, we heard Justin Trudeau talking about 138 (of 176 people) being on their way to Canada.
Then something extraordinary happened.
All media outlets started talking about each and every one of these passengers. Their stories were told by those who knew them. And our eyes were wet.
We knew them all. No! No! I don’t mean in person. But we knew them. These people were us. New and somewhat new immigrants, taking a more affordable flight back to visit their families for holidays, attending weddings, getting married, and so on. Just like we all do.
Many were our typical Iranian nerds: coming out of the best schools in science and engineering, and already trailblazers in their fields. The only passenger I knew in person was Ardalan Hamidi of PoCo. A civil engineer who worked on the Evergreen expansion of the SkyTrain. I knew Ardalan outside of his professional work and from his community activism. And we were on opposing ends (me being a New Democrat, and him…not so much. And we traded jabs. If only we had more time to discuss politics).
Another was Ghanimat Azhdari, an indigenous researcher from the Qashqai tribe (south of Iran), working on biodiversity and reconciliation. I also got to know the story of Mehran Abtahi, an environmental civil engineer and a UBC postdoctoral research fellow, through his brother Arman. And then there was Roja Omidbakhsh, a first-year student at my alma matter, UVic.
I could be on that plane. WE could be on that plane. Each and every one of us who visit. My parents could be taking that flight to come here.
And some were not on that flight by pure coincidence. My eyes were wet since I started learning about each one of the passengers. But it was not until a friend told me that she did not get on that flight simply because she refused to stay longer (against her mom’s wishes) that I started to REALLY cry.
And just like that, a community, and my heart, were shattered into pieces.
As you might have read in my pieces before, the bulk of my community activism revolves around engaging newcomers as "neighbours" and "partners". If anything, I want the decision-makers to see them, to see us, as partners who can provide and be part of the solutions for our challenges as a society. Be it the economy, health, education, technology, environment, and so on.
Iranians in Canada are a somewhat (but not too) new community here. We are mostly low key and not as “visible”.
And all of a sudden, all eyes were on us. And a nation was mourning with us. Because we are Canada. It was a “Canadian Tragedy”. All while the state in the “homeland” was trying everything in the book to put a lid on their crime.
I am not writing to talk about those who committed this crime. They do not deserve to be the story. This is the story of us: new Canadians, immigrants, and those who were about to join the Canadian family (no, I do not distinguish between citizens, permanent residents, and those who were here on study or work permit). All of them were family. And they were contributing to this society one way or the other.
One year ago today, their story became eternal. And decades from now, I am sure that historians will write about a “defining moment” in what we know as the “Canadian Identity”.
For the first time, the “immigrant” was no longer some unknown person. They had a face, a name, and a story. And that is a Canadian story.
They were too humble to recognize it or to tell their story when they lived among us. But they were gracious to share a part of themselves with all of us. They were us!
Now it is our turn to make their story eternal. It is our turn to let their story into the light, the inspiration for a better nation, in an otherwise dark time.
Of course, myself and our community would like to see a monument to commemorate them in B.C., and especially Vancouver, just like how we commemorated (too late) the Canadians lost on Air India 182. Furthermore, many scholarships were established in their names. Along with other memorials, including the one initiated by the families themselves.
But their legacy must, and will be larger than all of those. They inspire us to be better, to make a difference, and never forget.
Let us also remember the kids of Flight 752. Many were born or grew up in Canada. As the founder of Farsi dar B.C. campaign (to bring Farsi as a second language option to B.C. schools), I will forever remember how their childhood was taken away from them, and the fact that most of them never get an opportunity to learn their native language in their school, and share it with their friends.
In 1985, Canada did not see the victims of the Air India 182 as “fully Canadian”, and then prime minister Brian Mulroney expressed his condolences to his Indian counterpart, with no word on the Canadians onboard. It took the families of those victims 20 years to meet with a Canadian prime minister.
We've came a looooong way since then. But this should not be the end. We are still a young nation, with a long road ahead of us.
Let’s walk together!
Dedicated to the precious souls onboard PS752, especially:
Ardalan Ebnoddin Hamidi (Port Coquitlam, B.C.)
Ghanimat Azhdari (Guelph, Ontario)
Mehran Abtahi (Vancouver, B.C.)
Roja Omidbakhsh (Victoria, B.C.)