At a memorial service Wednesday at the University of Minnesota, Alireza Sadeghi mourned for several friends who were among the 176 people killed when Iran mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet last week.
They all had attended the Iran University of Science and Technology before Sadeghi emigrated to Minnesota in 2016 to pursue a graduate degree in electrical engineering.
On top of his grief, now Sadeghi finds himself worried about what will happen to his family members still in Iran if a war breaks out.
“This crash is showing the price of war. … The only thing that will happen during [a] war is that people will lose their lives,” said Sadeghi, 29. “They will lose many things that they value.”
Dozens of people gathered at Wednesday’s event to honor the passengers who died after the Iranian military mistakenly shot down the plane shortly after it took off from the Tehran airport. Iran did so after launching missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops in retaliation for America’s killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Photos of the dead flashed across screens at the service, and the mourners wrote notes to the bereaved families. They bowed their heads in a minute of silence.
Eden Prairie resident Maryam Ashtiani, who left Iran in 1985, recalled a former schoolmate in Tehran who was killed in the strike as “a total sweetheart.”
The service marked yet another moment of reflection for Minnesota’s community of Iranian descent since Soleimani’s death two weeks ago in a drone strike in Baghdad. Immigrants new and old are wondering about the consequences of a possible war between the United States and Iran and what it would mean for family members still in Iran.
St. Louis Park resident Mehr Jay Shahidi, a human rights activist, said both countries should negotiate under the auspices of the United Nations.
“I see tensions getting worse now, and even if we don’t have an all-out war between us and Iran, these tit-for-tat sanctions are really hurting a lot of Iranians and a lot of children,” he said.
Shahidi, who emigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1960s, said he views the United States’ killing of Soleimani as dangerous and unnecessary. He believes the general should have been tried in an international court with evidence presented that he had engaged in atrocities.
“Even if he was a ruthless criminal — of course, for some people he’s a hero, for some people he’s an enemy — this is not the way the U.S. government should act,” said Shahidi, who owns a construction company. “The U.S. is … the role model of the world.”
In addition, Shahidi said, a war with Iran would be disastrous for American interests.
“When I came to this country to go to college over 50 years ago and I fell in love with it and I decided to become an American … I grew to believe in the essence and in the promise and in the purpose of the United States, so when I see the United States doing something like this, it really breaks my heart,” Shahidi said.
Last week the Trump administration announced new economic sanctions against Iran, ordering the country to stop fostering terrorism and to commit to having no nuclear weapons.
Sadaf Rahmani, a 28-year-old policy research associate who lives in Minneapolis, recalled growing up in Iran and seeing how prices fluctuated based on U.S. sanctions.
“It was something you felt in your daily life. … Iranians are very plugged into international politics, because the impact is usually felt immediately,” she said.
Rahmani came to the United States in middle school, not long after 9/11. She said the Iranian community in the United States is divided, with some happy that Soleimani is gone but also fearful of war.
“With the shooting of the airplane, that is the cost of war,” she said. “If the escalation hadn’t happened, 176 people wouldn’t have died for nothing. … It’s the reason why I am advocating that we shouldn’t be going to war with Iran and we shouldn’t be escalating the situation, because ordinary people — Iraqis, Iranians, Americans — will end up losing their lives.”
St. Paul Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson, 33, whose father came to the United States from Iran three decades ago, said she was about to fly home to the Twin Cities from vacation when she saw the news of Soleimani’s killing and threats of retribution from the Iranian government. For the next few hours in the air, unable to follow the news, she felt sick.
“I really do feel like every chapter of my life has been shaped by how we as a country have failed to have a successful Iran policy that prioritizes diplomacy and really sees the Iranian people as a full people that need support, not more punishment through all the policies we’ve taken, like sanctions and escalation,” she said.
She said she would like to see congressional leaders “bring the oversight and accountability necessary to the situation and to urge the U.S. to pull back.”
Woodbury resident Chuck Laingen recalled many trips to Iran as a child when his father, Bruce Laingen, was stationed in Afghanistan. Bruce Laingen, who died last year, was the highest-ranking U.S. official in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
Soleimani’s death “was a legitimate and certainly legal action based on the current state of relations and what Iran has been doing,” said Laingen, who served in the Navy for 21 years. “My point of view is the escalation has almost entirely been on [Iran’s] side.”
But, he said, “The current state of affairs bothers me a lot, and it’s just so sad for both nations that we can’t figure out how to coexist.”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210