Remembering Ghanimat Azhdari, Student Killed In Plane Crash NPR's Scott Simon talks with Faisal Moola about his student, Ghanimat Azhdari who was on board the Ukrainian airplane that crashed in Iran this week.
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Remembering Ghanimat Azhdari, Student Killed In Plane Crash

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Remembering Ghanimat Azhdari, Student Killed In Plane Crash

Remembering Ghanimat Azhdari, Student Killed In Plane Crash

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Iran's military said today that it unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian airliner just outside Tehran on Wednesday. Investigations there continue on how this could have happened. We do know that all 176 people aboard died in that crash.

One of those lives lost was Ghanimat Azhdari, who was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Guelph in Ontario. She was one of many international students who were returning to Canada from the holidays, and we spoke with her professor, Faisal Moola.

We are sorry for the loss of your student and friend. What can you tell us about got Ghanimat Azhdari?

FAISAL MOOLA: Well, my dear student was a remarkable person. Ghanimat was an indigenous person. She was actually from a tribal nomadic community in southwestern Iran and had been working for many, many years in Iran to advance the rights of indigenous peoples when it comes to the protection of their traditional and ancestral territories.

SIMON: What tribe was Ghanimat in?

MOOLA: Ghanimat was a member of the Qashqai Nomadic Tribal Confederacy, which are a tribe in southwestern Iran, and she had also played a very significant role in helping to organize other indigenous nations in Iran as part of a confederacy of indigenous peoples.

SIMON: What was she like as a person? What was she like to get to know on a daily basis?

MOOLA: Oh, Ghanimat was just absolutely, absolutely wonderful. You know, she was not a very big person. She was probably 5-foot-nothing, but she still had the ability to command people's attention so forcefully. In our lab meetings, for example, we would oftentimes talk using jargon, scientific jargon, but our conversations were oftentimes peppered by these very beautiful words that Ghanimat would use. She would very easily slip into Farsi and would describe the medicinal plants and would describe the sacred mountains and the rivers. Ghanimat helped to ground the research that we were doing in place.

SIMON: How are students at your campus taking her loss and the loss of so many others?

MOOLA: I mean, we're in terrible, terrible pain. There's going to be a vigil this evening at the University of Guelph. It's so sad. There are vigils at well over a dozen universities in Canada that have been happening all week long. The students and I have been talking about how are we going to address this catastrophic loss in our lab in terms of the loss of Ghanimat and her impact on the type of research that we were doing and whether or not we will be able to continue the type of research that Ghanimat had begun in her absence. And I'm not convinced that it will be possible, I'll be honest.

SIMON: I gather there were a fair number of Iranian students and professors and researchers from universities all across Canada who were lost in this airplane crash, weren't there?

MOOLA: Yes. We're now beginning to understand just the magnitude of this tragedy. In addition to Ghanimat, who was at the University of Guelph, we now know that there's probably several dozen other scholars. Some of them were Iranians who were coming to Canada to study, like Ghanimat. Others were Canadians of Iranian descent.

You know, oftentimes, we have a stereotype of Iran. We tend to think of the country as being a backward country, as a theocracy that doesn't actually respect science. But, in fact, Iran is populated by a very young population. And these young people are incredibly well-educated. They're very innovative. They're very worldly, and they have a real strong desire to make a positive contribution to the world.

SIMON: Faisal Moola is assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario. His student, Ghanimat Azhdari, was one of those killed in the Ukrainian airplane crash in Tehran. Professor Moola, thank you so much for helping us remember your student.

MOOLA: Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell Ghanimat's story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINOR ALPS' "AWAY AGAIN")

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