University of Alberta dedicates memorial to community members lost on Flight PS752

A weeping spruce will honour the memories of 10 members of the University of Alberta community killed more than two years ago when an airliner was shot down over Iran.

The freshly-planted evergreen is part of a new memorial unveiled Wednesday.

On Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down by the Iranian military. All 176 people on board were killed, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.  

Ten people from the U of A — students, professors and alumni — were among the victims, along with three of their direct relatives. 

On Wednesday afternoon, U of A president Bill Flanagan and other officials honoured the victims with a dedication ceremony at the Rutherford Quad on the U of A’s North Campus.

The memorial, designed “as a place of quiet reflection,” according to the university, includes a bench and a plaque along with the weeping spruce.

‘No justice’

Hamed Esmaeilion, who spoke at the event, said it’s important for the families to honour the legacy of their loved ones, together.

Esmaeilion’s wife, Parisa Eghbalian, and the couple’s nine-year-old daughter, Reera Esmaeilion, were among the victims.

This memorial plaque honours members of the University of Alberta community who died when Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down by the Iranian military in January 2020. (Pippa Reed/CBC)

The families have had little time to grieve, Esmaeilion said. Most survivors set their emotions aside to fight for answers and lobby for justice, he said.

“There [are] still lots of questions about Flight 752, and nobody knows the truth,” said Esmaeilion, who is president of the association representing families of victims.

“And when we don’t know the truth, there’s no justice and there’s no closure for the families. 

“What we have done for the last 28 months is just to try to push everybody forward, to find the truth for the families.” 

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down the Boeing 737 shortly after takeoff. Two surface-to-air missiles hit the plane.

The jet was shot down hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed in retaliation for an American drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Unsatisfied that various governments involved, including Canada’s, had not provided the answers they sought, families of the victims spent 17 months doing their own research. 

Their 200-page report, made public in November 2021, claims the government of Iran intentionally kept its airspace open to use civilian air passengers as human shields against a possible American attack.

In their report, the families say they believe the plane was shot down intentionally and that high-ranking Iranian officials were responsible.

Even after searching for their own answers, Esmaeilion said victims’ families remain frustrated with the lack of justice.

He said he still holds out hope that the RCMP will open a criminal investigation into the deaths of the Canadians on board, and that the people directly responsible will be named and held to account. 

He said the victims must be honoured but the injustice that cut their lives short can not be overlooked. 

The complicated questions overshadow every memorial he attends. 

“We should not forget that truth and justice are big part of it,” he said.

“It’s remembering the victims, but at the same time, you have to know what really happened to them. You have to see what happened in the aftermath of this heinous crime.” 

The victims with direct ties to the University of Alberta include: 

  • Nasim Rahmanifar
  • Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi
  • Amir Hossein Saeedinia
  • Mojgan Daneshmand and Pedram Mousavi, and their daughters, Daria and Dorina
  • Pouneh Gorji
  • Arash Pourzarabi
  • Saba Saadat and Sara Saadat, and their mother Shekoufeh Choupannejad.
  • Elnaz Nabiyi

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