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Aftermath of the IranAir Crash: Burying the Dead, Asking Why

by ALI CHENAR in Tehran

12 Jan 2011 11:13Comments

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[ dispatch ] On Tuesday, the people of Orumieh gathered to bury the remains of the victims of the IranAir Flight 277 crash. Streets were clogged by cars and mourners, hundreds of whom came to Orumieh from surrounding cities and villages. Most of the city's commercial buildings were decorated with black banners and placards. Many homeowners and apartment dwellers followed suit. "This is a small city, everybody knows everybody, everybody is everybody's relative," a middle-aged Azeri shopkeeper told Tehran Bureau.

With a population of 600,000, Orumieh is home to Azeri, Kurd, Assyrian, and Armenian communities. The city is known for its religious tolerance and the peaceful coexistence of its diverse populace. The airplane disaster left few untouched. "There are many families with more than one relative or friend lost in this crash," said a young man wearing black. The tragedy has shaken the nation, but it has affected this peaceful community the most.

On Monday, there were talks of a public burial, with military march and escort. Authorities wanted to carry the remains of the victims using trailers, which are reserved for martyrs. This caused anxiety among some of the mourning families. Nima, 29, who traveled from Tehran to bury the remains of his uncle, explained, "We wanted a private burial, something for friends and family only." After some negotiations, the family was granted its wish. "When we returned from the cemetery, others were approaching it," he said.

The scene was overwhelming. Hundreds of people were wearing black, carrying coffins, and chanting, "La ela ha ell'Allah" -- there is no god but God. Women were crying and screaming, and the wives and daughters of victims were beating themselves. The scene was so strong with emotion that some of the guards were moved to cry.

Authorities had rushed to voice their condolences. Some speeches had a hint of an apologetic tone. Vahid Jalal-Zadeh, governor of Western Azerbaijan, declared, "All of the authorities, commanders, and members of parliament join you in your sorrow and express their regrets." He continued, "The response to the crisis was strong and well organized. It is most regrettable that despite all the efforts we have experienced such a loss." Rasul Khodabakhash, rector of Orumieh Azad Islamic University, who lost his wife and only son in the crash, prayed for the victims' families and asked them to remember, "This is a test of their patience and faith by the Almighty."

"This is a city in mourning," the Azeri shopkeeper said. "The authorities are wasting their breath -- no one is hearing what they are saying." He is right. This relatively small community has other concerns at the moment.

"There are not enough mosques to hold the memorial ceremonies," said Nima. After a burial, it is traditional for mourners to gather in a mosque to hear a sermon in memory of their beloved and to recite verses from the Qu'ran. There are not enough mosques in the city to accommodate all of the mourning families. "My family had to hold its ceremony simultaneously with that of another family in the same mosque," said Nima.

For the people on the streets of Orumieh, the most important thing right now is to comfort those who have suffered. Still, the question of aviation safety angers many. As Nima put it, "I want those who think sanctions are working against the Iranian government to come to Orumieh and tell that to my widowed aunt and my orphaned cousins." The people of this city, which happened to be the first base for American missionaries in Iran, would appreciate it if someone cares to tell them why 77* people died on Sunday evening in an aging Boeing 727.

*Updated figure is 78 dead.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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