Jon Cartu Says: Hundreds gather for Halifax memorial for jetliner victims |…

Hundreds gather for Halifax memorial for jetliner victims |...

Jon Cartu Says: Hundreds gather for Halifax memorial for jetliner victims |…

Passengers with Halifax connections who perished on the downed Ukranian jetliner several days ago were remembered Saturday as bright, loving and caring people.

“We’ve come together as a community, and we’ve heard that word over and over again, to support our neighbours, to support our brothers, our sisters, to support strangers and it didn’t matter what we looked like, it didn’t matter the colour of our skin, the shape of our face, the hint of our accents, because this united us all,” Ivan Joseph, vice-provost of student affairs at Dalhousie University, told about 1,000 people who jammed into the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on the university’s campus for an emotional afternoon memorial service.

“We struggled with the same emotions, why, how come, it doesn’t make sense, how do I sort this, it’s not fair, why them, it could have been me.”

Heart-broken family members and friends of the eight Halifax-connected passengers killed in the crash sat in the front row of the auditorium and Joseph told them to “take a moment, to go past this moment of grief, to think about this one thing, that nobody will go through this alone.”

Masoumeh Ghavi, a 30-year-old Dalhousie engineering student, her younger sister Mandeih and Halifax dentist Sharieh Faghihi were among the 176 victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 bound for Kyiv from Tehran that was shot down by an Iranian ground-to-air missile. 

Among the other 63 Canadians who died in the downed airliner were Sharieh Faghihi, a 58-year-old dentist who had worked in Halifax since 2011, and Fatemeh Mahmoodi and Maryam Malek, both of whom were enrolled in Saint Mary’s University’s master of finance program.

Shekoufeh Choupannejad, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Edmonton who worked in Halifax from 2011 to 2014, and her daughters Sara and Saba Saadat, both of whom were attending university, were also killed in the incident. 

In an afternoon filled with memories, sobs and hugs, Joseph told the congregation that he follows a scriptural creed that boils down to “I am you, you are me, we are one.”

“I am you means your pain is my pain, your sorrow is my sorrow,” he said. “You are me, take my strength, take my support. We are one, nobody goes through this alone. 

“For the families that are here, shedding tears, as painful and sorrowful as it is, let us hold them in our hearts. Let us take a moment to share some of our light, some of our love with them. And those of you who are connected in meaningful ways to the people in front of the stage, take a moment to share remember whens with the family members that are here so that no story and no memory gets left behind.”

After denying any responsibility for the crash for days,Iran said on Saturday its military had shot down the Ukrainian plane in a “disastrous mistake”, saying air defenses were fired in error while on alert after Iranian missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.

Saturday’s service focused on the tremendous human loss in the crash, not the blame for it.

“I can not stop looking at those faces, thinking about their dreams,” Nida Alizadeh said in opening the service while photos of the victims dominated a screen behind the stage.

“I read about their lives, their stories, their goals, I am so close to them,” Alizadeh said, fighting back her emotions. “ We all are so close to them. 

“Our hearts are broken. Although we may not have words to show our deep sadness, we came to say we care and we all are united in this grief. Your loss is our loss. It’s the loss of the world.”

Alireza Nafarieh, president of the Iranian Cultural Society of Nova Scotia that organized the memorial, said it was difficult to speak but easier to cry. 

Masoumeh Ghavi, had begun working part-time for Nafarieh at Hannatech Inc. a couple of months ago and he shared how “incredibly happy” she was to head home to Iran in December, looking forward to bringing her younger sister Mandeih back to attend Dalhousie.

“She would not be lonely anymore here when she got back,” Nafarieh said.

He said the downed flight was packed with intellectuals, top students from high-ranking universities, PhD candidates, doctors, dentists and specialists. 

“What a huge loss, not only for Iran and the Iranian community but also for Canada and Canadians,” Nafarieh said. “Today is the day of grief for losing our loved ones, for missing them, for not seeing them anymore, for not hearing their voices, for not seeing their smiles. Also today is a day of celebration, celebrating their valuable lives, their beautiful souls, their unforgettable memories and all the good things that are left behind.”

Nafarieh said he will always remember Masoumeh Ghavi’s beautiful smile.

Lena Diab a Liberal MLA, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, Teri Balser, the acting president of Dalhousie and Robert Summerby-Murray, president of Saint Mary’s, also talked about the community being united in grief and the monumental loss to Canada.

“With more questions than answers, we focus on what we know to be true,” Savage said. “The passengers on that one airliner represented so much of what we ought to value in this world and what we should strive to be as citizens of this world.”

Reza Rahimi, boyfriend of Faghihi’s daughter, said Faghihi has been like a mother to him since he arrived in Canada.

“She always asked me to be strong,” Rahimi said. “The time that I had doubts, she always backed me up. She was the one who pushed me to start my business. 

“We all miss her.”

Marjan Adibi, Faghihi’s sister-in-law, described her as someone who was kind, who loved life, a role model and devoted mother who “always tried hard to fulfill her responsibilities.”

She told Faghihi’s son and daughter, both of whom attend Dalhousie, to fulfill the dreams that their mother had for them.

Choopan Nezhad, a family friend of Choupannejad and her daughters, Sara and Saba, said they were the smartest, liveliest people he had ever met.

“They will be missed greatly by everyone that knew them.”

Ladan Yahyaeian, a SMU student who knew and studied with Mahmoodi and Malek, said Mahmoodi was always smiling and making her fellow students laugh while Malek never took no for an answer.

Yahyaeian said Malek’s plan when leaving Halifax for Iran was to surprise her parents and be in the kitchen when they woke up. 

“We had four Iranian students at Saint Mary’s, now we are two.”

Quoting from Persian poet Rumi, Yahyaeian likely captured the feelings of many at the Cohn.

“I love my friends neither with my heart nor with my mind just in case hearts might stop and minds can forget. I love them with my soul, the soul never stops or forgets.”

Jon Cartu

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