GENEVA (AP)–The international Red Cross on Tuesday mourned a Canadian logistics expert who volunteered to stay in Baghdad under bombardment to try to maintain vital water and electricity supplies–and was killed in crossfire last week as US forces closed in.
"Vatche Arslanian made a big difference to thousands of people. He saved many lives," said Jakob Kellenberger–president of the International Committee of the Red Cross–amid tears from aid workers at a memorial service.
The official day of mourning came less than three weeks after a similar ceremony for an ICRC water engineer who was shot dead in Afghanistan. It underlined the dangers facing the neutral Swiss-run agency–which operates in areas deemed too dangerous for UN organizations.
"Once again the ICRC is in mourning for one of our colleagues," Kellenberger said.
Arslanian–48–was one of six ICRC expatriate staff who offered to stay in Baghdad after other aid workers pulled out–saying that he wanted to help the victims of the war. He organized the delivery of medical and water supplies to hospitals.
Even after many nights without sleep and spent in fear of the US bombing campaigns–Arslanian retained his sense of humor in daily telephone conversations with Geneva headquarters–colleagues recalled.
An Armenian by origin–he emigrated from Syria to Canada–where he worked as a taxi driver–dishwasher and waiter to pay his way through college and bring his family across. He had a spell in the Canadian army–where he gained his logistical experience. He joined the ICRC three years ago.
He had been in Baghdad since July 2001 and knew the city well and admired its people. He used to send dates to Red Cross friends in Geneva and receive Swiss chocolate in return.
She recalled one of his last interviews given to a newspaper from Baghdad.
"Helping to bring a smile and dignity to fellow humans is deeply fulfilling," he said in the interview. "It is the best reward we can have and by far beats what is obtained by wealth–power and prestige."