‘Open wound in the sky’: Families honor loved ones who died when Iran shot down airliner 2 years ago

Family members of those who died aboard an airliner shot down by Iranian military forces two years ago commemorated their loved ones on Saturday with a solemn ceremony and fresh appeals for justice.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired two surface-to-air missiles at the Ukraine International Airlines plane on January 8, 2020, shortly after takeoff in Tehran, killing everyone on board.

Fifty-five Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among those who died. Many more of the 176 people killed in the crash had ties to Canada.

A partly virtual ceremony was organized by the Association of Families of Victims of Flight PS752 to mark the second anniversary of the tragedy. Called “The Open Wound in the Sky,” the two-and-a-half-hour event was broadcast from Toronto. Afterwards, hundreds of people gathered in Mel Lastman Square in the north of the city for an outdoor vigil.

The virtual ceremony began with a recorded Persian recitation of the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou’s poem On The Threshold, followed by a video summarizing the events since the crash and the families’ continued struggle for accountability.

Three mothers who lost family members in the crash then took turns reading aloud the names and ages of each of the 176 victims.

“Two years ago today (…) the world lost 176 hopeful and hopeful people due to an unimaginable act of brutality,” said Amirali Alavi, the event’s MC. , whose mother died in the accident.

“They were children, students, young couples, entire families and innocent people all around who were dearly loved and now sorely missed.”

A woman lays a flower at a makeshift memorial to the victims of flight PS752 in Toronto on Saturday. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

Videos that were shown throughout the ceremony carried messages from family members who continue to cry.

“The crash of the plane, the murder of all these young people, all these decent human beings, is like the death of my own hopes and desires,” said one woman.

Another asked, “What have my beloved child, my dear daughter-in-law and their sweet traveling companions done to deserve to be set on fire by you in the skies of our homeland?”

Families demand justice

The Iranian government has denied that it shot down the plane for three days after the crash, but after international pressure admitted that an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unit shot down the plane “by mistake”.

The Iranian military was then on high alert due to the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike five days earlier at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq, as well as a retaliatory attack. subsequent Iran against Iraqi bases where US forces were stationed.

Iran’s final report on the tragedy blamed human error, saying the plane was shot down after being “misidentified” by an air defense unit as a “hostile target”. He blamed low-level military personnel for the mistake.

But Canada and its allies, including the UK, dismissed this explanation as insufficient and called for an independent investigation.

Efforts to negotiate compensation for families have stalled, and Iran recently snubbed another deadline set by Canada.

A woman cries during a vigil for victims of flight PS752 in Toronto on Saturday. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

Hamed Esmaeilion, the president of the association who lost his wife and nine-year-old daughter in the tragedy, passionately expressed his frustration at the Iranian regime’s lack of accountability for what he called “blood murder. -cold”.

“They told us to be patient and we listened. They told us that all options were on the table, and we waited for those options to be checked. But now, after two years, we realize that our patience didn’t pay off, “Esmaeilion says. “Canada must stand up for justice, and it is time for all of us to side with the right side of history – today, now and urgently.

The group demands that the case be brought before the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – a United Nations agency based in Montreal – and that the RCMP launch a criminal investigation.

WATCH | Federal officials and the RCMP are of no help in PS752, the victim’s twin brother said:

Federal officials, RCMP are useless in PS752 case, victim’s twin brother says

Armin Morattab’s twin brother and sister-in-law died two years ago on flight PS752. He says the government and the RCMP should do more to help the families of the victims in their quest for justice. 8:36

He also calls for arrest warrants and official government sanctions against senior Iranian political and military leaders, and the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

“We continue to write polite letters one after the other,” Esmaeilion said of the federal government. “We will not give in with shallow and shallow apologies and a political game … We will never forget, nor will we ever forgive.”

Saturday’s ceremony included speeches by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and three of his ministers. Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory also participated virtually.

Akram Shojae, second from right, is comforted during a vigil in Toronto on Saturday as she mourns her son, Amir Hossein Ovaysi, daughter-in-law Sara Hamzeei and grandson Asal Ovaysi, all of whom died aboard flight PS752 . (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

Trudeau pledges support, Conservatives call for action

Trudeau said the federal government will continue to support the families of victims and fight for accountability, transparency and justice.

“Flight PS752 was shot down due to the recklessness and total disregard for human life of Iranian officials. We cannot allow this to remain,” he said.

“Now that Iran has failed to meet the negotiating target, we will vigorously pursue other international accountability and justice mechanisms. Canada will stand alongside members of the [International Co-ordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752] as a united front and we will not rest until Iran is held accountable, ”Trudeau said, referring to a group of countries that lost citizens in the crash.

The federal conservatives have called on the Liberal government to impose sanctions on Iranian officials following the regime’s lack of cooperation.

“Those responsible for this attack must be held to account, and the Liberal government has a responsibility to help the families of the victims seek justice,” MPs Michael Chong, James Bezan and Melissa Lantsman said in a statement.

“Iran’s refusal to negotiate compensation for the victims clearly shows that the Liberal government must use all the tools available nationally and internationally.”

The Conservatives are also demanding that the government initiate talks with ICAO “to limit Iran’s ability to operate commercial aircraft in international airspace until they agree to comply with international standards in the airspace. ‘investigation “.

On Monday, an Ontario court awarded more than $ 107 million to the families of six of the victims, although it is still unclear how the money could be raised from Iran.

The move follows a ruling in May that the missile attack was an intentional act of terrorism, paving the way for relatives of those killed to seek redress from the regime.

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