"Not only those on board but they also hit us all on that plane, all of us; tired parents, a brother who was devastated and overnight grew old. There is no happiness left in our house," says Arezoo Ghaffouri Azar, the sister of Siavash Ghaffouri Azar, who was killed along with his wife, Sara Mamani, when the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps fired two missiles at a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane and downed it on January 8, 2020, outside Tehran.
"Assuming justice prevails, which is not possible at all, we have lost our lives, and the only thing that may ease our pain a little is seeing those responsible for the tragedy on trial."
All 176 passengers aboard the three-year-old Boeing died.
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 returned to Canada.
A year after the tragedy, Arezoo speaks about the tragedy and the night the newly married couple was set to fly back to Canada.
Earlier, in the heat of the widespread anti-Islamic Republic uprising in November 2019, on an almost daily basis, Arezoo's father used to telephone his son warning him to refrain from traveling to Iran.
"As Sarah's mother was ill, they were going to have a simple wedding ceremony. Whatever Baba (dad) said, do not come, the situation here is not favorable and is unbelievably bad; Siavash insisted that he could not postpone the plan. 'I want Sara's mom to see our wedding,' he said. Finally, the two held their wedding ceremony, and I cannot explain how happy my dad was."
The killing the Chief Commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, on January 3, 2020, left Arezoo worried about the insecurity of the Iranian airspace.
"I called my other brother, Darius, and told him that the airspace was not safe. They (the IRGC and the Islamic Republic authorities) were seeking revenge. It was clear that the sky was not safe. I also called Siavash; he did not have access to WiFi. When he arrived at the airport, he called me. I told him,
'Do not to get on the plane; the situation is awful.' He said, 'Don't worry. As soon as I arrive in Kyiv, I will call you.'
Nevertheless, I, who am neither a politician nor an expert nor anything, knew and recognized that the sky was not safe that night."
Flight 757 never reached Kyiv. "Siavash had promised to call me. I was anxious. Two hours later, I checked my cellphone and saw the text on a plane crash. I screamed. I immediately felt what had happened. I cannot believe that downing the plane was not intentional. It was intentional. Even I, as a layperson, was sure it was intentional! If it were not intentional, they should have closed the airspace. It was a war situation, and they should have closed the airspace."
For three days, the Islamic Republic officials wrapped the tragedy in a series of lies and secrecy. Initially, they blamed Boeing's technical failure for the deadly crash.
However, under international pressure, the IRGC's Aerospace Chief Commander, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, admitted that an IRGC's missile "inadvertently" shot the plane down.
The passenger plane was mistaken with a U.S. Cruise missile, the IRGC General said.
Arezoo, who lives in Canada, continued, "My older brother and I and my uncle wanted to go to Iran, but my father's condition was so bad that he told us all that he did not want us to set foot on Iran. That is, he did not permit us to travel to Iran. My parents were not in good condition at all. They (Islamic Republic agents) kept going to our home in Iran, and there was a lot of pressure on my parents. We were unable to do anything. Baba said, 'you stay where you are, I will come to you quickly.'"
Before leaving Iran, Siavash Ghafouri Azar's parents were permanently under Iranian intelligence agents' control.
"They were harassed in a lot of ways and as much as possible. Baba said that the intelligence agents came as the representative of the governor's office, or Astan Qods Razavi, pretending to condole us day after day. But, in fact, their aim was not consolation. Mom says there were two cars in front of the house all the time. They had pasted something on the door, which said that Siavash and Sara were 'martyrs.' It was a ludicrous statement that intensified my parents' suffering. The intelligence agents were also present at the funeral. That is, their presence overshadowed the funeral. I mean, my parents were under the intelligence agents' control round the clock until they managed to join us here, in Canada. The Islamic Republic authorities did not deliver any of the Siavash and Sara's personal effects. They only gave the corpses that we buried, just that and nothing else," Arezoo said.
In November 2020, a relative of Siavash and Sara, Babak Ghafouri Azar, revealed that intelligence agents had broken the tombstone of Siavash and Sara and took their pictures off the grave.
They do not have mercy on anyone's tombstone. Yet, it did not matter to us at all, since they have taken away our lives. A stone is merely a piece of stone, but they have set our lives on fire. By doing so, they are giving away their real identity more than ever. I have never dared to look at Siavash and Sara's tombstone. I cannot accept at all that my Siavash is buried under a piece of stone. Let them (the authorities) break the stone, let them do whatever they want; the truth is they took our lives from us. A stone is just a piece of a stone," Arezoo said.
On the eve of the anniversary of the downing of the plane, the Iranian government promised that it would compensate the survivors of the tragedy with $150,000 each.
Nevertheless, Siavash's family still seeks justice and the announcement of the truth.
"We just want the authorities to present the truth, although I believe there's no truth since even the international community's reaction to the tragedy was not becoming. The least the international community could do was imposing air embargoes on the Islamic Republic and cut off all its flights to and from Iran," Arezoo said, adding, "Canada was the only government that supported us. The only thing we seek is justice and nothing more. I hate to talk about compensation because we will not swap a strand of Siavash's hair with the entire world. We want the revelation of the truth, the whole truth. To arrest an operator and to blame him for the tragedy does not satisfy us. The ones who laid the ground for the tragedy and ordered the shooting down the passenger plane should be identified and tried at international courts. I kept mum for an entire year since I am full of anger and hatred. Now, I say, the only thing that might calm us down a bit is justice. We do not forgive; we just want justice. We want the world to stand by our side."
2020 felt much longer than a normal year, Arezoo described. "It is as if we have been under pressure for twenty years. Twenty years without Siavash. It has been tough. Imagine being hit in your own country, where you were born, where you count as your homeland, where its people are counted as your people. Then, they hit your child in such a place. Foreigners were not responsible for the tragedy. The crime was committed by one of our own people. Siavash had gone to his homeland, not to an alien country. Now, you can imagine how do we feel about that homeland. As far as they (Iranian authorities) are in Iran, it would not be my motherland. This is how we feel. A feeling that Iran could not be my motherland since it took away my life, my brother."