One year after the Ukrainian plane crash, the grief of the victims’ families is still fresh.
On January 8, 2020, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two missiles at a Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) passenger plane, downing it and killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.
The mullahs’ regime pressured the victims’ families to declare their loved one “a martyr.” In many cases, the security forces had been the ones to bury the bodies.
Ghanimat Ajadari was among the victims of the UIA’s doomed flight 757 who were declared a martyr.
Members of the security forces and commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) carried Ghanimat Ajdari’s corpse during the funeral and buried her.
Ghanimat Ajdari, 38, was born in Shiraz. She was an environmental activist and a graduate of the University of Tehran in Forestry and Land Management. She had been pursuing her doctorate in Canada.
According to her sister, Ghanimat Ajdari was full of life and vitality. She loved dance, music, and color; discovering the unknown; travel; science; education; and innovation. In her short life, she had been able to progress in all these fields and achieve many of her dreams.
Victims killed in the crash were called martyrs
On calling her sister a martyr, Azemat Ajdari said: “A martyr is a person who goes to war by his own will, by his own decision. Martyrs fight and sacrifice their lives during combat with the enemy. But was my sister, or someone else’s child, brother, husband, or wife [who lost their lives in the crash] soldiers? Had they gone to war? Or were they merely returning home or going away to study? How can such persons be martyrs? They had boarded a plane to pursue their dreams and their lives. No, they were not martyrs. Indeed, they weren’t.”
On handing over the body of her sister, she said: “They did not even let our family identify my sister’s body. My mother said they handed us a large object, something like a mannequin. My sister was a slim petite. No one believes that my sister is sleeping down there. We never visited her grave because we do not believe that what lies underneath the name engraved on the tombstone is my sister. Nothing proceeded as we wished…
“My sister’s belongings were not delivered to us, except for a pair of earrings, a ring, and a half-burnt passport. She had three suitcases, gold and money, and a camera and a laptop. Of course, these items have no material value for us, but they were very valuable to us spiritually.
We could have had many of the photos and videos she had on her camera and laptop, but unfortunately, they [the regime] did not return them to us. From what I have heard, in some cases, the regime handed over the electronic devices that were still intact – after they had removed memory cards and hard drives. But our family has received nothing like that.”
No one has been punished yet
After a year of withstanding pressure from the regime, Ghanimat’s sister said: “We were so devastated that we couldn’t process the slew of issues before us. We had failed to follow up on all the news related to the tragedy. The authorities had merely blamed a technical failure for the crash, which was extremely hard to believe. They took three long days to finally admit the truth. We were flooded with grief again after their admission. Our grief was probably much more piercing after that since we were not dealing with an accident – we were confronting a crime. It was tragic to realize that they could hit us in our own homeland. It was shocking to find out that those responsible for our lives, safety, and security could kill us.”
“The day we found out that the IRGC was responsible for the downing (of Flight PS757), we somehow confronted the commanders. They were no longer our compatriots. They were not our friends. They were our enemies because they had killed our loved ones,” Azemat said.
Regarding the compensation the regime had promised to the victims’ families, she declared, “It is impossible to wash away people’s blood with money. At least it is impossible here. We will not let this happen, even if we are offered billions of dollars. The authorities only want to appease our sympathizers and those standing by us and send them a message: ‘If they lost loved ones, we are making up for it.’ They [the regime] think compensation will tempt the victims’ families. But even if they offer us a thousand times more, we will not be tempted. We are going to seek justice until the end. Even if they should pay compensation, it is not the right time for it. First, we need a thorough investigation into exactly what happened, why it happened, who ordered it, who planned it, and who carried it out.”
The newly-wed couples killed in the crash
Paniz Gorji, the brother of Pooneh Gorji, is another member of the victims’ families. His sister Pooneh and her husband Arash Pourzarabi died in the crash a week after their wedding. Both were computer engineering graduates of Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology.
Paniz Gorji spoke about how state officials and agents treated the victims’ families, saying, “Besides our anger and disbelief, and wondering what had happened, it was excruciating to see the authorities’ superficial condolences and attempts to pull us to their side, and somehow extract forced forgiveness. During the past year, the victims’ families went through a painful period that I hope no one else ever experiences.”
“As soon as the authorities of the Islamic Republic labeled our loved ones ‘martyrs’, we rejected the notion,” Paniz said, adding, “Our loved ones were not ‘martyrs.’ Then they [the regime] offered superficial condolences to force relief on us. They wanted to appease us without revealing what had really happened or who was responsible for the crime. Representatives of the Bonyad-e Shahid (Martyrs’ Foundation) repeatedly visited our house to lure my mother into joining the foundation. We categorically rejected their offer. Our problem is not whether we belong to this or that state-run institution. We (victims’ families) have our own association. Moreover, consolation is meaningless when one murders someone.”
“There is no happiness left in our house,” says Arezoo Ghafouri Azar, the sister of Siavash Ghafouri Azar, who was killed along with his wife, Sara Mamani, after UIA Flight 757 was downed.
“Even assuming that justice prevails, which may be impossible, our lives have been destroyed. The only thing that might ease our pain a little is seeing those responsible for the tragedy brought to justice.”
Siavash Ghafouri Azar and Sara Mamani were both graduates of Concordia University in Canada. They had traveled to Iran to celebrate their wedding with their relatives but never made it back to Canada.
Seeking justice for the victims
When asked about the regime’s actions, Azemat Ajdari replied, “The Islamic Republic has not only failed to answer to the victims’ families and survivors, it has also persecuted them. However, the Islamic Republic should be held responsible to the survivors and their families and also to the whole world because it has committed an international crime against humanity. During all this time, the Islamic Republic has not only closely monitored us, it has also tried to block us and has subjected us to psychological torture and harassment with contradictory and fake news.
“The downing of the Ukrainian plane is not the Islamic Republic’s first nor last crime. However, the difference between this and other crimes is that this one was unprecedented in history.”
She continued, “I want to tell the killers of 176 innocent people (as well as a 7-month-old fetus) that we are not asking for money, compensation, title, salary, or consolation… No compensation can ever replace our loved ones. We just want the perpetrators of this crime to be tried and prosecuted in a fair and impartial court. That is all we want… We seek to establish a legitimate international tribunal to punish those who played even the smallest role in this crime.”