February 27, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 460

Hamed Esmaeilion: The Moral Compass Of The Iranian Opposition

February 27, 2023 | By Himdad Mustafa*
Iran | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 460

Hamed Esmaeilion is one of the most prominent figures in the Iranian democratic opposition in the diaspora, as he is supported by different segments of Iranian society, including Iran's ethnic groups. Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian stated that Esmaeilion has emerged as a "moral leader" and a "leading voice outside Iran in the anti-regime movement – an essential bridge between Iranians in the diaspora who want to promote a freer future for their homeland and the millions inside Iran who live under an abusive system that has long operated with impunity."[1] Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also defined Esmaeilion as a "role model" and a "moral compass" for the Iranian diaspora community.[2]

The following report shows how Esmaeilion could be the main figure that would manage to unite together the Iranian opposition and bring the collapse of the Islamic republic.

Flight PS752

Esmaeilion was born in the Kurdish city of Kermanshah, in 1977. He is an Iranian-Canadian social activist, author, and dentist. He studied Dentistry in University of Tabriz between 1995 and 2000. He immigrated to Canada with his wife Parisa, and their newborn baby girl Reera, in 2010.

On January 8, 2020, Esmaeilion's wife and their only child Reera, were killed when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with two surface-to-air missiles, shortly after it took off from Tehran's international airport. The missiles killed all 176 passengers and crew aboard.

In order to seek justice, Esmaeilion and a group of families of victims of Flight PS752 established the "Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims." "The missions of our Association are to unite the grieving families, keep the memories of the passengers alive, and most importantly seek justice. We are determined to uncover the truth and find out why a commercial flight was shot down by IRGC's missiles. We will staunchly seek justice until the culprits, perpetrators and commanders of this atrocious crime are identified and brought to justice before an impartial and independent court," wrote the association, headed by Esmaeilion.[3]

Esmaeilion with his wife and daughter. (Source: Twitter)

Award-winning director Babak Payami's new documentary "752 Is Not a Number" about the downing of Flight 752 by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.[4]

Speech At The Flight 752 Memorial Ceremony

On January 8, 2023, at a Flight 752 memorial ceremony held in Toronto by the Association of Victims' Families of Flight PS752, Esmaeilion gave the following speech: "Three years have passed that seem to us like a lifetime. It took a long time for everyone to understand that the Islamic Republic regime is nothing but a mafia gang, a tyrannical state that produces nothing but terrorism, repression, and injustice. The world must understand that they have no place in the international community and most importantly, they do not represent the great people of Iran...

"It need not have taken 44 years of endless crimes for the world to learn that somewhere in the Middle East, instead of a free and democratic country, a gang of murderous thugs is ruling over their people. When Mahsa Amini was murdered, Iran and its people rose to voice the grief and rage that has been burning in them for forty-four years. Since then, over 500 more innocent lives have been taken by the regime to prove that Mahsa Amini's death was an accident. Thousands more are suffering unbearable, inhumane conditions in prisons throughout Iran. Four young men have been executed for blocking traffic in protests and burning garbage containers on the streets. Many more are facing imminent execution for similar acts of defiance that are labeled by the regime as corruption unearthed...

"We thank the governments of the four affected countries – Canada, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Sweden – who have helped to pave the way to bringing the criminals to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. We know all too well how difficult and complex this legal process is, but we remain confident that on June 28, 2023, this fight will be opened in the head court, and the rotting Islamic Republic regime will face justice...

"Three years have passed and we are still alive – alive and fighting. We live for a dream of freedom and justice in Iran. We live to see the day that Iran's children will grow up in a safe peaceful country and every Iranian can enjoy prosperity in a free and democratic Iran. We live for a day that the women and girls are free to decide how they live, what they wear, and where to travel to. We live for the day that those behind so many horrendous crimes will be tried in a free and fair court of law. We live for the day that freedom, social justice, equality, and respect for the environment become the real aspirations of our people and the day that we continue to live for is one without the Islamic Republic and the criminals who rule that beautiful country."[5]

Berlin Rally

On October 22, 2022, amid intense anti-regime protests, Esmaeilion showed his leadership abilities and united over 800,000 Iranians in a rally in Berlin, in what was described as the "largest" gathering in the history of Iranians opposing the Islamic Republic.

"We all have dreams. In our dream prisoners are not sentenced to death in three-minute trials," Esmaeilion said in a speech he delivered at the rally. "In this dream, the oppressors are not putting chains around the neck of writers and poets. In this dream no one dares to suppress the minorities, or to imprison a worker because of his writings, or beating and then torturing him to death... Our dream will come true with the downfall of Ali Khamenei's empire of fear and crime."[6]

Esmaeilion also gave the platform to representatives of minorities to speak at the rally, like Baloch activist Fariba Baloch and Kurdish political activist Shahab Sheikhi, who spoke in Kurdish.[7] On social media, praised Esmaeilion forgiving a voice to minorities and in particular to Fariba Baloch, who is a woman belonging to a minority, as was the 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Jina (Mahsa) Amini.[8]

Ghazal Golshiri, Iranian journalist for Le Monde, wrote that "the success of this rally reflects the influence of its spokesperson, Hamed Esmaeilion, who has managed to unite a once-divided opposition."[9]

(Source: Twitter)

(Source: Twitter)

(Source: Twitter)

Protesters also waved the Kurdish flag and held a banner with the Kurdish slogan "Jin, Jiyan, Azadi," (Woman, Life, Freedom; translated into Persian as "Zan, Zendegi, Azadi"). (Source: Rudaw)

The IRGC Is A Terrorist Organization

In a statement about the need for European governments to list Iran's IRGC as a terrorist organization, the Association of Victims' Families of Flight PS752, headed by Esmaeilion wrote: "The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a terrorist organization and must be recognized as such by the international community. For the past three years, the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims has routinely demanded listing the IRGC in its entirety as a terrorist entity. Today, with the people of Iran making their voices heard loud and clear in the Woman, Life, Freedom revolution, it is time that Europe recognize and declare the true terrorist nature of the IRGC.

"The acts of terrorism committed by the IRGC are countless, but the families who lost loved ones on flight PS752 have been the victims of one of the most heinous of such acts. On January 8, 2020, the IRGC forces fired two missiles at flight PS752. The Islamic Republic of Iran initially attempted to blame the downing of flight PS752 on technical failures and later on a human error, but the evidence has made it clear that the attack was intentional. In the malicious calculations of a terrorist organization, 176 innocent victims and an unborn child perished on their way home from winter holidays, leaving an immeasurable load of pain and grief behind.

"Since flight PS752, the IRGC has continued its vicious conduct on all fronts and extended its economic reach in Iran. Most recently, the IRGC engaged in violent suppressions of the uprising of the people of Iran, using military-grade artillery on civilians. Outside Iran, they have supplied Putin's regime with a large number of explosive drones, devastating the civilian infrastructure. For more than 44 years, the IRGC has consistently terrorized civilians both inside Iran and abroad. This cannot stand. We support the demonstrations in Strasbourg on January 16 [2023] that call on the European Union and all European governments to designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity. We further ask the European governments to expel the ambassadors of the Islamic Republic from their countries in support of the will of the people of Iran."[10] The U.S. designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization on April 15, 2019.[11]

(Source: Twitter)

Iran's Minorities Voice Their Support To Esmaeilion

Esmaeilion appears to be the only opposition figure in the diaspora who enjoys great support from Iran's minorities, as he has acknowledged their suffering in multiple occasions. For example, talking about Kurdistan, in a November 2022 tweet, he wrote: "Hundreds have been killed in the last 2 months. Thousands were murdered in the last 43 years. And right now Kurdish cities like Javanrud, Bukan, Piranshahr and Mahabad are under siege. Be firm to the Islamic regime's criminals."[12]

In January 2023, Esmaeilion also tweeted in Kurdish addressing the father of Hooman Abdullahi, a young man from Kermanshah (Esmaeilion's hometown) killed in protests: "Dear father of Hooman Abdullahi, my brother, as you said, we have no weapons other than our tongue. We will overthrow the murderers and bring them to justice. Thank you for remembering me. We will keep the memory of Hooman and all those who were killed in our homeland alive. Long live Kurdistan, long live Iran."[13]

It is worth noting that, in an Instagram post, Esmaeilion called on the Iranian opposition to unite: "Let's not fear having a dictatorship in the future. Let's not fear Iran's dismemberment. These fears are not real ... Let's agree on [our] minimum demands and dig the grave of this rotten corpse... Many of the mistakes of the past will not be repeated if we leave political disputes to after the toppling of the descendants of the demon [Khomeini]."[14]

The Rise Of Esmaeilion Increases Concerns In Tehran

The political ability of Esmaeilion to unify the country's largely fractured opposition into a collective movement raised concerns in Iran. On February 6, 2023, the Iranian news agency ISNA wrote that Esmaeilion is "an oppressed who became the oppressor," calling him a "stylish separatist" who has "joined the plot of the enemies of this country for the purpose of dividing Iran."[15]

Iran's SNN news agency called Esmaeilion the "Iranian Zelensky" and "a subversive leader" created by the West. After accusing him of having connections with "senior officials in Canada and the United States, World Zionist Network affiliates and the Baha'i sect members," the agency added that "The Canadian government, in cooperation with the United States and several other countries, is trying to use the head and spokesperson of the families of the victims of the Ukrainian plane as 'a political celebrity' in their war with the Islamic Republic."[16]

SNN claimed that "It seems that the West looks at Hamed Esmaeilion as a much more valuable asset than some illiterate actors and footballers, who even forget to upload the modified texts on Twitter when they receive orders from their Western masters."[17]

It seems that the Iranian regime fear more Esmaeilion and activist Masih Alinejad rather than Reza Pahlavi, as the Islamic republic's media represent the latter as someone with no real support.[18]


Over the past 120 years, ethnic and religious discrimination under monarchical and theocratic systems respectively has resulted in violent uprisings along ethnic and religious lines against Iran's Persian-centrist central governments. It is therefore important to support democratic, inclusive forces that represent different segments of the Iranian society. Hence, to ensure a peaceful political process, it is important for the international community to endorse democratic figures like Esmaeilion, who represents Iranians from all walks of life inside and outside the country.

* Himdad Mustafa is a Kurdish scholar and expert on Kurdish and Iranian affairs.


[1], December 28, 2022.

[2], June 21, 2022.

[3] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452, The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The 'Multinational Iran', January 30, 2022.

[4], September 1, 2022.

[6] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 452, The Iranian Monarchists Do Not Represent The 'Multinational Iran', January 30, 2022.

[7], October 22, 2022.

[8], October 30, 2022.

[9], October 24, 2022.

[10], January 16, 2023.

[11], accessed February 27, 2023.

[12], November 21, 2022.

[13], January 16, 2023.

[14], January 29, 2023.

[15], February 5, 2023.

[16], October 23, 2022.

[17], October 23, 2022.

[18], January 25, 2023.+

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