Over 2,000 people gathered at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton on Sunday, to honour the lives of the people who died in a plane crash in Iran. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance.
Iran announced Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the jetliner.
The Saville reached capacity for the event, which was open not only to friends and family of the 13 local victims, but also to anyone who wanted to show their support.
When it began, the highly-attended event was standing room only, with some people forced to listen in from the doorways. Officials said around 2,300 people were in attendance.
The ceremony began just after 3 p.m. with the Canadian national anthem, and a moment of silence for the victims.
Numerous delegates spoke at the event along with the Prime Minister: Premier Jason Kenney, Mayor Don Iveson, and several University of Alberta officials, including President David H. Turpin.
Among the victims with ties to our city were 10 academics from the University of Alberta.
“This week has been a powerful reminder that the University of Alberta, the city of Edmonton, and Canada are part of an inter-connected world.” said Turpin, the first speaker at the memorial.
“During a very dark week, our coming together has been a powerful reminder of how blessed we are to be part of a great global community right here in Edmonton.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about meeting with families of victims across the country over the past week.
“Sitting with these families while they talked about their loved ones, learning who they were, what they loved to do, what their plans were for the future, was gut-wrenching,” Trudeau said.
“This tragedy struck our Iranian-Canadian community, leaving cities like Edmonton reeling. This was truly a Canadian tragedy. All Canadians are mourning your loss.
“While no words can ease the pain, the grief, the outrage, it is my sincere hope that you can find some comfort in knowing that all Canadians stand with you. That is what makes us strong,” Trudeau said.
Both Trudeau and Premier Jason Kenney pledged to those in mourning that there would be accountability held to the Iranian government for the tragedy.
“You give us purpose to pursue justice and accountability for you,” Trudeau said. “I want to assure all families and all Canadians we will not rest until there are answers.”
“Everyone shares the understanding that this, this city and our province, suffered a terrible loss,” Kenney said, in a speech following Trudeau. “Whether their lives were taken by incompetence by accident or design, we know that everyone on board that plane were victims of a chain of actions rooted in the all too human failure to resolve conflicts peacefully.”
“Prime Minister, we have confidence that you and the Government of Canada will do everything in your power, working with the international community to get answers — to learn what really caused this appalling destruction of innocent lives.”
Edmonton mayor Don Iveson said that he was proud of the turnout and response from the city, that Edmontonians are all “one degree of separation from each other”.
“We share the same streets, the same shops, the same workplaces,” Iveson said. “So it hits us. Because we can easily conceive how we might be connected to these people who are suddenly gone, even if we never had the pleasure of knowing them directly.
“So we are all here, friends of friends. We love them as friends because we share a community.
“To those of you who have lost loved ones, you are not alone here in this city. You have the sympathy, the embrace, and the support of a million of your fellow Edmontonians and far far beyond,” Iveson said.
Friends and family of each victim spoke emotionally about their loved ones throughout the ceremony.
Yeganeh Molazem, a friend of U of A professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, and their children Daria and Dorina Mousavi, said the four were like her second family.
“They treated everyone around them with love and kindness,” Molazem said. “Daria and Dorina were like my little sisters, the most incredible girls I ever knew.
“They were blessings to this world and its so heartbreaking to have lost them so soon.”
Brian Fleck, a professor at the U of A’s Faculty of Engineering — where Mousavi and Daneshmand both worked — said the pair were “eager contributors” to the province’s engineering field.
“So many of us knew first-hand their indefatigable spirit, energy and determination,” Fleck said. “Many of us as engineers wondered if somehow that family was breaking the laws of physics… with their endless positive drive.”
Friends of a mother and two daughters who lost their lives in the crash,— Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad and her daughters Saba and Sara Saadat — also spoke at the memorial and said one of the few comforts was to know that they were together when they died.
“Sara and Saba were sisters, but above all, they were the bestest (sic) of friends,” one of their friends said at the memorial. “Through love, through sadness, and through death.
“It brings me some comfort to know that they had each other in those last moments.”
Amir Forouzandeh, a close friend of Pouneh Gorji and Arash Pourzarabi, said they were the kindest people he had ever met. The two had just been married days before the crash.
“There are no words that can describe how this loss feels. We are in denial,” Forouzandeh said.
He said that the pair were known for their ability to cheer people up and had many close friends in the Edmonton area.
“Their voices keep replaying in our heads every second. I cannot accept that I will never hear their voices again.
“I wish I could just talk to them once more, only once. That’s all I want.”
A friend of Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi, who completed a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the U of A in 2017, said Sunday that Elyasi “always had a smile on his face.”
“He became someone I spend most of the hours of my day with,” said Rafat Jami, who was a student at the same time as Elyasi. “If I went through every good thing about Mohammad, it would probably take me days.”
Nasim Rahmanifar, a graduate student at the U of A, was remembered by friend Anahita Shokr as a hard-working person who “loved her research,” but who was also a well-rounded person.
“She had a great social life, she was a painter, she was an artist, she was an athlete,” said Shokr.
Elnaz Nabiyi, a PhD student in accounting, was remembered by friends at the memorial as a compassionate person who inspired those around her.
“She always knew how to make family and friends smile and bring them closer together,” a friend said at the event. “She was taken from us unjustly while advocating for justice her whole life.”
Amir Hossein Saeedinia was also remembered as part of the Edmonton community at the event. He was scheduled to start his PhD in mechanical engineering this month at the U of A.
The Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, along with the Iranian Students Association of Alberta and the University of Alberta, jointly hosted the memorial service.
A book of condolence has been set up at Edmonton City Hall for people to share their messages to the families and friends of the victims. The book will be available to sign between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. inside the south entrance of city hall until Wednesday, Jan. 15.
The province also set up an online condolence page on Friday, which will be available for people to sign for two weeks. The messages will then be shared with the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.
–With files from Global News’ Caley Ramsay