UNB vigil honours plane crash victims

When St. Thomas University professor Fariba Solati learned she lost a dear friend and colleague in the Iranian plane crash she described it as “the sparkle in our eyes [being] gone forever.”

Her friend’s name, Forough Khadem meant “sparkle” or “brightness” in Persian, and to Solati, Forough was a bright light in her life, a light of which is now gone.

“I have not slept for the past three nights,” said Solati.

St. Thomas University professor Fariba Solati (above) spoke about the loss of her close friend, Forough Khadem. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

The executive of the University of New Brunswick’s Persia team, Hassan Heidarian, hosted a candlelight vigil in the Alumni Memorial Lounge on Jan. 10 to honour the lives of victims from the plane crash in Iran that killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians and 29 permanent residents.

On Jan. 8, Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after takeoff. The incident occurred hours after the Iranian government fired missiles at military bases in Iraq that housed United States soldiers. That attack was in retaliation for the United States drone strike on Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s most powerful military leaders.

Khadem was a University of Manitoba alum and an immunologist internationally known for her research.

Solati, one of the speakers at the vigil, called Khadem her “honourary sister” and that anyone could sense when she walked into a room.

“She would do things that a sister would do,” she said. “She was so kind and so happy and jolly all the time.”

“Forough said, ‘I like to appear and disappear and surprise people,'” Solati said. “She disappeared in the most horrifying way possible.”  

More than 100 people attended the event on Jan. 10. The crowd heard from speakers from UNB and STU and Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien. According to CBC New Brunswick, there are over 110 Iranian students at UNB Fredericton, many of whom knew victims of the crash.

Some attendees laid candles and flowers beside photos of the victims. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran, confirmed on Twitter on Jan. 10, “missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane [and] death of 176 innocent people.” The statement came after an investigation carried out by the state’s armed forces.

At the vigil, O’Brien read a statement on behalf of the council and city of Fredericton staff members to the families and friends of the crash victims. O’Brien said that he stands with the Iranian and Persian communities in their time of mourning.

“Life is precious, and you never know what tomorrow has in store,” he said.

“Embrace each other. Remember the fallen and let’s pledge … to understand each other and be tolerant of differences.”

Paul Mazerolle, president and vice-chancellor of UNB, spoke at the vigil and said out of the 57 Canadians and 29 permanent residents, at least 40 were active in the Canadian university and research communities.

Many were international students at other universities returning to Canada after spending the holiday break with their families. 

Mazerolle added that counselling services would be available for any students in mourning and all flags on UNB will be at half-mast “for the foreseeable future.”

Nancy O’Shea, director of international student advisors at UNB, invited attendees to lay flowers and candles on a table of photographs of victims. The names, ages and where they were from were projected onto a screen. 

UNB Persia team executive Heidarian said his heart breaks for the victim’s families. 

“They came from far away parts of the world to make some progress. I’m sure most of them tried to change their lives here,” said Heidarian. 

Heidarian encourages people to be there for anyone who might be mourning.

“[There are] lots of students here, imagine if some of them were on that flight. That could happen to these people, too.”

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