Community members gathered at the University of Nevada, Reno on Monday to remember the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines plane crash that took place in Iran earlier this month. The vigil honored the lives lost with poetry, music and solidarity.
Several dozen people gathered in the ballroom of the UNR Joe Crowley Student Union to remember the 176 lives lost in the plane crash. The Iranian Student Association, along with others in the community, organized the event with a display of flowers, candles, and photographs of the victims.
Sohila Bemanian is from Iran but has been living in the Reno area for more than four decades. As the nation was commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she says his message of peace especially resonates with her.
“Dr. King beautifully said that, you know, that we all have the right to live freely and be equal,” Bemanian said. “We’re all the same, as Dr. King fought for, so try to keep that legacy, and try to resolve our issues through communications and love, rather than wars and fight."
The flight took off from Tehran on January 8th before crashing. Initially, Iran denied responsibility and it took three days for the government to acknowledge the plane was struck down by the Iranian missile system. That strike took place after the U.S. killed an Iranian military leader.
Bemanian says the people on the flight had so much to live for.
“[There were] so many people with so many hopes and dreams that they had that they're working and studying at the universities around Canada and different countries, and they worked all their lives,” Bemanian explained. “And it just makes it really sad, and that's why it's important to honor their lives and realize that when you have conflicts, nobody wins, and you have so many innocent people that lose their lives."
Saeed Ahmadvand is an engineering research faculty member at UNR. He wants to speak out against the action of the Iranian government for shooting down the plane and not taking immediate responsibility.
“I think I’m jaded. I’m angry enough not to care about saying the things in my heart out loud,” Ahmadvand said. “What happens in Iran, what happens in the region, kills me. It annoys me, makes me upset. I don’t like it.”
Ahmadvand says the memorial is to offer support to the community, but he’d also like to see change.
"Hopefully, some people hear our message and feel supported,” Ahmadvand explained. “I really want to see someday in my, in my lifetime when I'm alive, even if I'm very, very old, that I see freedom; I see people happy. I can celebrate; we can get together and celebrate.”
As a civil engineer, Hamed Zargara initially came to Reno as an international graduate student. Zargara says the vigil is a show of unity with those who lost loved ones.
“Definitely nothing is going to reduce the amount of sadness right now,” Zargara said. “Maybe this could be a very, very small help, hopefully, and we just want them to know they are not alone in this. Hopefully, we never see something like this again.”
Nory Nakhaee is concerned about the mounting political tension between Iran and the U.S., and how that affects people’s perceptions.
“People of Iran are pretty peaceful, nice people, like, the majority of them are that way,” Nakhaee said. “And it’s unfortunate that there are a very tiny, small group who happen to be in power who are giving the people of that country a bad name, and we are being called terrorists and this and that, which is not really what the true people of Iran are.”
Some in attendance wept during a slide show of the victims, which captured moments of them enjoying their lives with their family and friends.