'Everyone is sad': UPEI hosting memorial for Iranian plane disaster victims

The Iranian community on P.E.I. is struggling with the reality of the deaths of nearly 200 people, most of them bound for Canada, when a plane crashed shortly after takeoff from a Tehran airport Wednesday.

"We actually lost so many good people, talented students, researchers, PhD researchers, professors of universities across Canada," said Ali Siadat, who helped organize a vigil at UPEI.

In an email to CBC, university officials said the Chaplaincy Centre and the UPEI Iranian Society have partnered with members of P.E.I.'s Persian community to host a vigil on Monday to remember those lost in the plane crash.

All of the 176 people on board the plane died. Fifty-seven were Canadian citizens and 138 were on their way to Canada. Though the number of Canadians killed in the crash was initially believed to be 63, at a press conference Friday, the federal foreign affairs minister said it was actually 57.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is evidence the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

"Just get together to support each other and express condolences for the people who suffered from what happened," Siadat said.

Ebrahim Norooz/The Associated Press

Siadat said the plane crash was "a big shock" to those in the Island's Persian community and said he feels like it was "unbelievable" for all Canadians.

"The Persian community is just, everyone is sad, everyone is very emotional right now," Siadat said.

Siadat said he hopes the memorial at UPEI shows members of that community they are not alone.

Students needing support are being asked to contact the International Student Office or UPEI Student Affairs.

"It's been very saddening. It's a huge shock to the whole community. There's a lot of disbelief," said Sina Sedighi, a recent graduate of UPEI's nursing school, and now a medical student at Dalhousie University.

Sedighi's family still lives on the Island.

"Mostly people are calling each other, getting together. There have been some lost from the relatives of a couple of the students that are studying at UPEI," he said.

"We're keeping them in mind. We're calling them, we're trying to give them all the support that we can."

Brian Higgins/CBC

Sedighi said if that turns out to be true it will only make it harder for the families and friends of the victims, but he added he is also concerned about the political implications.

"The last thing we want is for this event to become another political tug of war between Iran and other governments. It would be just harder for the victims," he said.

At this point, he said, the main thing people want is for the truth to come out.

Memorial service

UPEI's president Abd-El-Aziz sent an email to the campus community about the tragedy, expressing condolences and indicating supports available for students.

The flags in front of the Kelley Memorial Building are at half-mast and will remain lowered until next Wednesday, marking a week since the crash took place, the email said.

The vigil on Monday takes place from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at McMillan Hall at the W.A. Murphy Student Centre.

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