Governments and universities across Canada have set up more than 250 scholarships to date in honour of those who perished aboard Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile after taking off from Tehran just over two years ago.
Fifty-five of the victims were Canadian citizens and 30 were permanent residents. At least 60 were students, staff or alumni of Canadian universities.
This past January, the federal government announced a new program that’s expected to disburse scholarships worth an average of $25,000 to 176 people, one for every person whose life was ended onboard the flight. The scholarships should be open to applicants, whether they are international or Canadian students, in the fall/winter of 2023 to 2024.
“We will continue to stand by the families of victims, and through the scholarship program and commemoration tribute, we will continue to remember and honour their legacies,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said in a statement.
Universities cancelled plans for large in-person memorial events on Jan. 8, the second anniversary of the attack, due to surging COVID-19 cases. Instead, friends, families and colleagues gathered in small groups for virtual candlelit vigils.
At the University of Alberta, the flag was lowered to half-mast, and students and staff were asked to take a moment of silence to honour those who died.
“Our entire community still feels the loss of these 10 remarkable people,” U of A president Bill Flanagan said in a statement, referring to the students and staff who were killed. “They were our colleagues, friends, instructors, mentors, peers and classmates.”
The federal scholarship program builds on large and small initiatives around the country to carry on the academic legacy of the victims of Flight 752.
In Ontario, where 11 universities lost students or faculty, the provincial government has renewed a scholarship fund set up in 2021, with funding for 57 scholarships worth $10,000 each.
At the University of Toronto, the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship fund has granted four awards to date from the Iranian Memorial Student Scholarship and the Dr. Razgar Rahimi, Farideh Gholami, and Jiwan Rahimi Award – named for a young family who died on the plane. More than 440 donors have given nearly $150,000 for the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund. A spokesperson for the university said it will match those donations three to one for the first $250,000 received, and dollar-for-dollar for anything beyond that.
The University of Guelph awarded two $5,000 scholarships this year to graduate students, in honour of two students from that institution who were aboard Flight 752. Ghanimat Azhdari was a PhD student in the department of geography, environment and geomatics, and Milad Ghasemi Ariani was pursuing a doctorate in the department of marketing and consumer studies.
Professors in the faculty of environment at the University of Waterloo established the Mari Foroutan Memorial Graduate Scholarship for a PhD student. Ms. Foroutan’s research focused on improving the world’s water supply. According the university, the scholarship will help “keep her memory alive in perpetuity and support those who will walk in her big footsteps in the years to come.”
The University of British Columbia set up an endowed fund of more than $100,000 to provide Iranian Memorial Award scholarships in memory of four members of the UBC community who perished. Seven students have been beneficiaries so far.
The University of Victoria and the Iranian Students Association are offering a memorial scholarship to undergraduate students in honour of first-year business student Roja Omidbahsh.
The University of Alberta has raised more than $729,000 for the Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi and Victims of the Flight PS752 Memorial, named for a married pair of engineering professors who died in the attack along with their two daughters. The funds will be disbursed through various scholarships, including one in their name.
‘Making my educational dream come true’
“This is a very special scholarship for me,” said Sadegh Aghapour Aktij, a PhD candidate at the U of A, who is one of the first recipients. Originally from Iran, Mr. Aktij moved to Edmonton in 2019 to continue his studies. There, he met Drs. Daneshmand and Mousavi. He said he was struck by the kindness and mentorship they showed to students, even those like him who did not directly work with them.
The professors, students and alumni on the flight were “working hard to make the world a better place for everybody,” said Mr. Aktij. “I myself will try to continue it and use this chance of making my educational dream come true.”
The U of A also plans to open a dedicated memorial space this spring in the Rutherford Quad with a tree, bench and memorial plaque.
Javad Soleimani’s wife, Elnaz Nabiyi, a graduate student at the U of A, was flying back to Canada on Flight 752 after visiting her family in Iran. In the first year after her death, Mr. Soleimani poured his grief into producing the documentary film Dear Elnaz, which premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Mr. Soleimani, an MBA student at U of A, also established a scholarship in his wife’s name.
“This year was very tough for me, even tougher than the first,” he said. “The meaning of life changed.” Mr. Soleimani said that Canadians need to continue to call for justice for the victims. The families long for truth and accountability for what happened, as well as for reparations.
The tragedy has also shone a light on the deep scholarly relationship between Canada and Iran, which has become strained in recent years due to international tensions and the political and economic situation in the Middle Eastern country. Scholarships help dedicated students who wish to study in Canada, said Mohamad Tavakoli, a professor of history and inaugural director of the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of Toronto. “It’s important to be able to assist them and create opportunities, particularly when they are highly talented and highly qualified,” he said.