The Iranian-Canadian dentist who became a “revolutionary” in spite of himself
Hamed Esmaeilion fights against the regime in Tehran from Canada. Beginning in September, the dentist helped organize protests in about 100 cities, including across Canada.
Hamed Esmaeilion's clinic is in Aurora, a suburb of Toronto. This is where the dentist and his family left their suitcases when they immigrated to Canada in 2010.
Having his own clinic was the dream of Hamed Esmaeilion and his wife, Parisa Eghbalian, whose diplomas still hang on the wall. But their dream came crashing down on January 8, 2020, when flight PS752 was shot down with Hamed's wife and daughter on board.
Met in his clinic one November afternoon in Aurora, the dentist is meticulous and attentive. His gown and glasses give him a stern look, but you can hear him joking with his patients.
At first glance, Hamed is a dentist like any other. Under her blouse, we guess a pin that offers a subtle clue to her activism. But it's by going up to the second floor of the clinic that Hamed really puts on his activist hat.
“I never had time to grieve.
— Hamed Esmaeilion, activist and spokesperson for the Association of Families of Victims of Flight PS752
In this large room, dozens of boxes of paperwork piled up, alongside posters, photos and documents. In a plastic bag, a computer that belonged to one of the victims of the plane crash.
It was my daughter Reera's playroom. Before, there were playmats and dolls, he says. It is now the headquarters of Hamed, who has been seeking justice for his family for almost three years.
Parisa Eghbalian (left) lost her life with her nine-year-old daughter, Reera (center), in the crash of flight PS752 in Tehran.
Flight PS752 crashed crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran, shot down by a missile launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Toll: 176 people were killed, including 55 Canadian citizens.
The Iranian regime claimed it was an accident, but Hamed and the Victims' Families Association saw it as a war crime and are still calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.< /p>
The aircraft crashed with 176 people on board.
According to Hamed, her struggle is inseparable from that of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian woman who died after being arrested by the morality police last September.
His death propelled Iran into a wave of protests that are unabated despite the regime's bloody response.
When they killed Mahsa Amini, all that pain came back to us, he said. I still don't know what happened to my wife and daughter, and I see the same is happening to Mahsa Amini's family.
A photo captured by a witness during a demonstration in a street in Tehran on September 21 shows the extent of disruption.
Faced with the protest movement in his home country, Hamed could not sit idly by. With the Association of Families of the Victims of Flight PS752, he began organizing demonstrations in support of Iranian opponents in five Canadian cities. Soon, his call to protest went viral.
Within 72 hours, there were marches planned in more than 150 cities, he recalls. On Telegram, Hamed communicated with anti-regime activists all over the world and helped them organize protests.
An Iranian woman living in Turkey holds up her hair after cutting it with a pair of scissors, during a protest outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul on September 21, 2022.
On October 23, he traveled to Berlin for a monster demonstration gathering some 80,000 people. In front of the crowd, the dentist spoke and made a plea for regime change in Iran.
“I am a completely different person than I was [three years ago]. I have become a revolutionary.
—Hamed Esmaeilion, activist and spokesperson for the Association of Families of Victims of Flight PS752
Hamed Esmaeilion quickly became a leading Iranian opposition figure and has hundreds of thousands of social media followers. The dentist, who describes himself as an ordinary person, admits that a certain pressure accompanies this growing notoriety.
There is the pressure of the community and the one that I put on myself to myself, he confides.
Toronto has been the scene of numerous mobilizations against the Iranian regime since the death of Mahsa Amini.
Babak Payami knows Hamed better than anyone. For about two years, the Iranian-born filmmaker cohabited with the dentist to document his grieving process. His film, 752 Is Not a Number, was notably presented at the Toronto International Film Festival.
From the start, I understood [qu'Hamed] was special, remembers the documentary filmmaker, himself a native of Tehran.
Mr. Payami recalls that the Iranian opposition has long been divided by political, ideological or religious differences. Hamed, however, managed to federate these different factions.
He has no political ambition […] the Iranian people see him as someone who has nothing to lose and nothing to gain and who seeks only justice, notes the filmmaker.
“I promised my wife and my daughter that I would find the truth and I would never give up on that promise.
— Hamed Esmaeilion, activist and spokesperson for the Association of Victims of Flight PS752
Hamed's struggle is not without risks. The activist often receives online threats and admits to worrying about his safety in Canada.
We know that there are many Iranian agents in Canada. This is alarming and is the reason why victims and activists do not feel safe, he denounces.
Hamed Esmaeilion, however, promises to continue his fight, with the hope that a free and democratic Iran would agree to bring to justice those responsible for the crash of flight PS752.
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