Indigenous Iranian PhD student among those killed in plane crash

(Indigenous Iranian PhD student Ghanimat Azhdari. Photo: ICCA Consortium)

Brett Forester
Ghanimat Azhdari, a PhD student at University of Guelph and member of the Qashqai Indigenous people in Iran, was one of 176 people killed Wednesday in a plane crash near Tehran.

At least 63 Canadians also died, but this number could change as more details emerge said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of Global Affairs.

The plane was taking off for Kyiv, Ukraine when it crashed.

The cause of the crash has not been determined.

Azhdari was on her way back to Canada after spending the holidays visiting family in Iran. She began her PhD studies in September 2019.

She belonged to the ICCA Consortium, which called her one of the international organization’s “most cherished flowers” and  “a strong activist and advocate for the global indigenous peoples’ movement.”

“Ghanimat worked tirelessly with many of Iran’s nomadic tribes, travelling across the country and supporting the national federation of Iranian nomadic tribes (UNINOMAD) to document their territories of life through their own worldviews and perspectives,” a tribute said.

The organization defines ICCAs as “territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Azhdari called them “territories of life.”

“If we are going to save the planet, we have to recognize and respect to the rights of the people who protect it,” she tweeted in August 2019.

One of two University of Guelph students

The university released a statement mourning the deaths of Azhdari and another PhD student who died in the crash.

Milad Ghasemi Ariana, 32, was enrolled in marketing and consumer studies.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic loss of two of our students,” president Franco Vaccarino said on the university’s website. “Our thoughts go out to the families of these two students and to anyone else affected by this tragedy. Any loss to our campus community touches all of us.”

Azhdari was a student of Dr. Faisal Moola, who called her “a beloved member of our research group.” Her research focussed on the “rights of Indigenous peoples in conservation and protection of biocultural knowledge,” Moola wrote in tweet.

She was a geographic information system (GIS) specialist enrolled in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.

Azhdari’s people, the Qashqai, have been referred to in the past as a nomadic or pastoral people.

They number 400,000 and make their home in southwestern Iran.

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