Javad Soleimani still wears his wedding ring.
His wife, Elnaz Nabiyi, was a passenger on Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 leaving Tehran on January 8, 2020. She was returning home to Edmonton.
The plane was hit by two missiles minutes after take off, killing all 176 people on board. Thirteen had Edmonton connections.
“Less than one hour before that I had a conversation with Elnaz,” said Soleimani. “She actually texted me, ‘We are on the flight and ready for take off.'”
He’s now on a search for answers, and justice. With a group of volunteers and funded entirely by public donations, Soleimani has produced a documentary titled Dear Elnaz. The film shows what the families of victims have been going through since Jan. 8, 2020. Filming took place in and around Edmonton over 10 days in the summer.
“We don’t know exactly what happened,” Soleimani said.
“We have no information about the truth of that night. We just know that the Iranian regime downed the Ukrainian flight PS752.”
The film isn’t limited to the single event.
“We try to be the voice of victims of the Iranian regime over the past 42 years,” Soleimani said.
Soleimani said the film touches on different parts of Iranian history, including the revolution in 1978 and the protests in November 2019. He hopes to bring international attention with the premiere on Nov. 23 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
Soleimani and Elnaz met while studying at Shariff University six years ago. It was her beauty that initially caught Soleimani’s attention.
“After becoming familiar with her, I realized that her inside was even more beautiful then her appearance.”
He laughs when thinking about how smart Nabiyi was. Soleimani said their grades were pretty similar, but not without some extra work on his end. “If I wanted to have the same performance as her, I’d need to study 10 hours but Elnaz was just two.”
They got married two years later. It was Nabiyi who wanted to come to Canada. She told Javad, “I promise Canada is going to be the best place for us to have a better life.”
Soleimani and Nabiyi both applied to the PhD program at the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta. They made the move in 2018. They were talking about starting a family.
It was at the University of Alberta where Soleimani first heard the news of the the plane being hit.
He was at HUB mall in a study room with a friend. While reading an article, a notification popped up on his computer.
“I told myself, ‘No, it’s not her at all,'” said Soleimani. “Then when I checked the flight number – PS752 – it was terrible.”
“I was just shouting and hit the wall. That night was terrible.”
Soleimani bought a ticket to Iran the next day. He would later be the one to identify her body.
He planned to stay a couple of months, but ended up staying less than 10 days. He never got to say goodbye to his parents.
Soleimani says funerals were hijacked. “Congratulations on your martyrdom” was written on the coffins.
Soleimani wants answers. The documentary is his way of trying to get some.
“My motivation, my only motivation for the rest of my life, is to pursue justice for this case.”
But, he also wants closure.
“I can’t find any word to describe my feeling at that time. It was like, maybe I’m asleep. Maybe it’s just a nightmare.
“Or maybe Elnaz will come and say, ‘Yeah Javad, you were asleep.'”