A chance meeting with a Port Coquitlam man who died on Ukraine International Flight 752 has left an SFU lecturer grief-stricken and looking for ways to commemorate Canadian victims of the Jan. 8, 2020 tragedy.
Mahda Jahromi, a lecturer in Sustainable Energy Engineering, has helped launch a scholarship at SFU in the name of the flight’s 176 victims, who all perished when the jetliner was shot down by Iranian armed forces shortly after take-off from Tehran.
Jahromi had met Ardalan Ebnoddin-Hamidi, one of his wife’s colleagues, at a Christmas party, just weeks prior to the crash and remembers a happy man and father content with his life.
The half-hour conversation came to Jahromi’s mind immediately after learning that Ebnoddin-Hamidi, his wife, Niloofar Razzaghi, and son, Kamyar — a Riverside secondary student — died in the crash.
“Him and his family basically went away in a second,” Jahromi recalls, remembering how he identified so closely with Ebnoddin-Hamidi, having immigrated to Canada from Iran in 2012 and, like Ebnoddin-Hamidi, left behind beloved family members.
Jahromi said he’s taken the same route via Ukrainian airlines himself to visit his mom and dad, a trip many Iranians call the ‘Good-bye tour,” and could have been on the plane that was shot down.
“It easily could have been us and the more I see and learn about the victims on that flight — the passengers on that flight — the more I realize how close this could have been; basically, we were on the same route the year before this.”
For weeks after the Tehran plane crash, Jahromi sought ways the victims could be remembered, reaching out to academic colleagues at BCIT, UBC, the University of Victoria as well as SFU, noting that many of the Canadian victims had ties with university or college institutions.
“And anybody I was speaking to they wanted to do something. The social media was the easiest platform to express the anger, sorrow and sadness. There was waves of things happening on social media.
“But at the time the only thing that was on my mind was to keep their memories and their names alive somehow. I did not not want these people to be forgotten 10 or 20 years from now.”
Among the ideas that were considered were a monument and a commemorative event. But the first, although still a possibility, is time consuming to achieve. The second had to be cancelled because of COVID-19.
Jahromi hopes a commemorative event can still be held once the coronavirus is reduced or eliminated as 300 people had committed to attending.
But what did come out of a year of discussions is the scholarship for post-secondary students, thanks to the help of some prominent Iranian-Canadians like the Eshghi brothers, executives of the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation. In a meeting with the foundation, the Eshghi brothers agreed to generously donate to UBC, SFU and other universities for the creation of scholarships commemorating the victims of Flight 752.
Of the $30,000 gift to SFU, $20,000 is planned to support SFU’s Flight 752 memorial scholarship and $10,000 will match additional donations, which are still being accepted.
Jahromi says it’s his hope that the scholarship, along with additional commemorative events, will ensure that people like Port Coquitlam’s Ardalan Ebnoddin-Hamidi will not be forgotten in the coming decades.
“It’s too big to let go,” Jahromi told the Tri-City News. “The pain is still there. Even though I only knew people on the plane — they weren’t my close relatives — it’s so immense, that when you look at their pictures you are reliving it again.
“I’m thinking if it has touched me this much and how much has it affected the remaining families? The worse thing is thinking you are eventually forgotten.”