Canada's Iranian community mourns members lost in crash

3 min

Toronto (Canada) (AFP)

University professors, students, a newlywed couple: they are among the 63 Canadians lost when a Ukrainian plane crashed after takeoff in Tehran Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

"Everyone is shocked now," said Kavoss Zadeh, a resident of Toronto's Little Tehran neighborhood.

The Iranian diaspora in North America counts a large portion of its population in Canada, with more than 210,000 Canadians of Iranian origin living in the country in 2016, according to official data.

Originally from Tehran, 65-year-old Zadeh has lived in Canada for 30 years and said he knew many of those killed in the crash.

"Some of them were dentists, doctors, highly educated people," said the supermarket owner. "When I heard in the morning, I was so sad."

The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 disappeared from radar early Wednesday, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini airport bound for Kiev.

There was no immediate indication of foul play, but the disaster brings more pain to a region already confronting heightened military tensions between Iran and the United States.

The plane went down shortly after Iran fired missiles at military bases in Iraq housing US troops.

"They are from my country. It doesn't matter if they are my relatives or my friends or not," said Toronto restaurant server Sahar Azmoudeh, 37. "It's the same feeling: sadness and shock."

At a currency exchange in the Iranian Plaza shopping center, 39-year-old Mahdi Rozvani knows at least six people who died.

"They are my friends, my customers. I'm shocked."

York University biology student Saba Kebari, 23, explained why some of her own friends and classmates were on board.

"The price of the dollar and the currency of our country drastically changed, and people prefer to have the cheapest flight possible," she said, referring to the impact of US economic sanctions. "And one of their options is the Ukrainian airline."

- 'Just terrible' -

Approximately 30 others on board were from the Edmonton region, Canadian media said, including a couple who were both professors at the University of Alberta and their two daughters, aged nine and 14.

"It's like, how can someone put words to that? It's just terrible," the couple's friend Payman Parseyan told national broadcaster CBC.

Two students from the University of Guelph in Ontario were on the flight, as well as one of their spouses, the school said.

Siavash Ghafouri-Azar, 35, and 36-year-old Sara Mamani were coming home from their own wedding in Iran and also became victims, according to The Globe and Mail newspaper.

Iranian-born dentist Hamed Esmaeilion said he was supposed to pick up his wife and nine-year-old daughter at the Toronto airport Wednesday, but after the crash he instead headed to Tehran by himself to look for answers.

"I have friends here, but no relatives. I have to go. I'm alone here," he told the newspaper.

The Tehran crash is the second-deadliest aviation tragedy in Canadian history, after the 1985 attack on an Air India flight that killed 268 Canadians when it exploded off the coast of Ireland.

Also on board the Ukrainian aircraft were 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons.