University of Ottawa hosts virtual memorial for students killed in Iran plane crash

Photos of University of Ottawa students Alma Oladi, Saeed Kadkhodazadeh Kashani, and Mehraban Badiei Ardestani, stand on a table in front of a slideshow showing images of Ottawa area victims, during a memorial ceremony at the University of Ottawa to honour the three students who died in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 in Tehran, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa university students killed in the downing of Flight PS752 in Tehran were remembered as bright young people eager to give back to their communities during a virtual memorial on Friday marking the one-year anniversary of their deaths.

Three University of Ottawa students — Mehraban Badiei Ardestani, Saeed Kadkhodazadeh Kashani and Alma Oladi — died alongside 173 other passengers and crew members when their Ukrainian International Airlines flight took off from Tehran and subsequently crashed on Jan. 8, 2020. Iran later confirmed its own surface-to-air missiles caused the crash.

The university and the uOttawa Iranian Student Association commemorated their deaths with a virtual memorial on Friday morning.

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Mehraban Badiei Ardestani was pursuing her undergraduate studies in the faculty of health sciences, according to the university.

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Her mother, Farah Ghods, spoke through tears about the loss of Mehraban, whose name she said means “kindness.”

“I tried to make her familiar with the deep feeling and value of love,” she said. “She was the best, loveliest and sweetest girl.”

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Graduate student Saeed Kadkhodazadeh Kashani was working towards a PhD in chemistry.

His professor, Stephen Newman, recalled during the memorial the first time he met Kashani in person after virtually chatting between Ottawa and Tehran.

Newman spoke of the burdens involved with doing a PhD abroad and having to pack one’s entire life into a suitcase for the trip. But he said Kashani showed up nonetheless with arms full of gifts from Iran for the faculty.

“This was the kind of person Saeed was. He was generous, he was kind,” he said, while also remarking on Kashani’s academic achievements.

Newman spoke fondly of Kashani’s tenacity and vision, but lamented the one-year anniversary of his loss, noting, “2021 should have been the year that he received his PhD.”

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Alma Oladi, also a graduate student in the faculty of science, was completing a PhD in mathematics.

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Oladi’s aunt, Hedieh Bagheri, recalled the joy she felt picking her up from the airport the first time she came to Ottawa for her studies.

Bagheri remembered Oladi for her “patience, pure heart, positive energy,” calling her a “happy girl who had a zest for life.”

She said her niece was pursuing her PhD as a way to give back to her community.

All three students were en route to the nation’s capital after returning to see their families over the holidays.

Two members of the Carleton University community, biology PhD student Fareed Arasteh and university alumnus Mansour Pourjam, were also among the victims of the crash. The memorial honoured their lives and other Ottawa-based victims as well.

Ashkan Goshani, Arasteh’s PhD supervisor, spoke during the memorial about how he had become an “adopted father” for the student in Canada. Their connection went as far as Arasteh asking for his supervisor’s opinion on getting married, he recalled with a laugh.

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Indeed, Arasteh’s personality brought in all others in his program, Goshani said, turning the other students into a surrogate family.

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Goshani said he was impressed by Arasteh’s conviction and his drive to give back to society through his studies.

“He wanted to contribute and be a contributor. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer. He wanted to be an actual player, scoring goals,” he said.

“He wanted to be a contributor to this society that gave him this chance to study his PhD.”

Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, who also made comments at the memorial, said the tragedy of the plane crash has revealed how deeply held civic contributions are in Canada’s Iranian community. McKenna reiterated the government’s commitment to seek justice for the families who lose loved ones in the crash.

Organizers highlighted the opportunity to provide donations towards the university’s Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in the memories of the victims.

— with files from Global News’s Beatrice Britneff

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