Nazanine Hozar was born in Tehran and lives in British Columbia. Her novel Aria was published last year.
Since the beginning of 2020, and the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, Iranian-Canadians have felt myriad emotions. But it also felt as if those emotions were being judged. If we were upset over Gen. Soleimani’s death, we were accused of supporting a dictatorial regime. If we cheered his murder, we were branded as unpatriotic, wishing ill on our own homeland. If we said nothing, we were called complacent. And if we tried to understand all sides no one could understand us at all.
As talk of retaliation and war grew louder, we thought of our families in Tehran, in Esfahan, in Shiraz, in Yazd. We wondered which cultural sites U.S. President Donald Trump had in mind when he tweeted about future military strikes. Imagine waiting, hour by painful hour, for possible war. Anticipating the unknown. Thinking of your parents, your aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, images playing over and over in your mind of bombs and missiles falling all around them – not just the product of a vivid imagination, but because, as an Iranian having already lived through the Iran-Iraq War, and having already lived through political upheaval after upheaval, through sanctions and uprisings, you’ve been through it all before. And yet here was another American president – like in the 1950s, the 1970s, the 1980s – interfering with your life, invading your peace of mind and representing a real threat to the safety of those you love.
By Tuesday evening, after Iran fired a number of missiles at Iraqi bases housing Americans, and it seemed the conflict would cool off before it heated up any further, we Iranians were exhausted.
Then the real bomb fell.
A Boeing 737 crashed on the outskirts of Tehran not long after taking off for Kyiv. All 176 people aboard, at least 57 of whom were Canadian citizens and 138 of whom were headed to Canada, were killed. Many of the dead were young – 15 children, and university and college students returning to school after the Christmas break. Entire families.
For every Iranian-Canadian this was horror experienced through the prism of five days of accumulated shock, exhaustion, confusion and fear. This is the kind of gut punch that comes at you before you’ve had a chance to catch a breath after the first punch has already landed.
My Iranian friends and I, who hadn’t slept Tuesday night as we waited to see if the United States would retaliate against the bombing of the Iraqi army bases, now found ourselves checking in with friends and family to see if anyone we knew was on that doomed flight. So many of those on board were Iranian-Canadian, we were bound to know at least one person. And even before details about the victims emerged, most of us knew what had been lost, because we know our people: hard-working, dedicated individuals whose contributions to society are indispensable. And they were: doctors, PhD students, engineers, business owners, from Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia – this was not just an unfathomable part of the Iranian-Canadian community that had disappeared in an instant.
This was Canada.
Now we are told, as many of us had fearfully suspected, that evidence shows the plane was accidentally shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. If you ever doubted it, take note: This is what war looks like. There are accidents and missteps, rogue missiles and unintended explosions. Generals, Presidents and Supreme Leaders spew vitriol and hate. They put up fronts and affectations to feed some kind of latent ego, but they’ve chosen a life of power, of bullying and violence. Ultimately, in the entanglements and uncertainty it’s the ordinary people who suffer – the newlyweds from Edmonton, the mother and her teenage daughter from North Vancouver, the two friends from Halifax.
I remember the days before the crash. There was talk online of a Third World War, with hashtags and social-media memes. Yet those of us in the community felt offended. To us this wasn’t a simple hashtag. These were our lives. We have suffered for the past 41 years, had our existence dictated to us by forces both internal and external. We were thinking of the innocent people in Iran who were no doubt wondering what horrors awaited them next. But little did we know that this horror would be felt most by our own community here in Canada.
My community needs your love, Canada. We’ve had about all that we can take. If you meet an Iranian-Canadian in the coming days, please offer a kind word. Tell us that it will be okay.
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