Vatche Arslanian Memorial

Date / Period
Object Type
International Humanitarianism and Presence Volunteers and Aid Workers

In July of 2001, Vatche Arslanian began working as a senior logistician for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Iraq. He was a Canadian Red Cross delegate at the time, and interviewed while still in Iraq in January 2003.  He explained the nature of his work in the interview, calling it “challenging and rewarding”  but he also said he enjoyed the work and the camaraderie with his colleagues. He said it was “satisfying to know that the Red Cross is alleviating the suffering of many vulnerable people in Iraq who have suffered the effects of two wars, and eleven years of harsh economical conditions.”

Arslanian died a few months following this interview when his vehicle was caught in crossfire in Baghdad during the invasion by coalition forces on April 8, 2003. Arslanian was one of 13 people killed in the incident. This tragedy speaks to the commitment of Red Cross workers, who sometimes persist in helping victims of humanitarian crises despite dangerous circumstances. Arslanian and five other ICRC workers volunteered to stay as the situation worsened in Iraq.  

“The most satisfaction you get is helping people.”

The House of Commons paid tribute to Arslanian on April 10, while his team in Baghdad observed a day of mourning. He was remembered at a memorial service held in his honour, on April 15 in Geneva. An engraved memorial stone honours Arslanian in Baghdad, and his name was added to the list of lost Canadian aid workers associated with the Monument to Canadian Aid Workers in Ottawa.  He was interred in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, on April 24.   

Born in Syria, Arslanian immigrated to Canada in 1975. He worked in a number of jobs before joining the Canadian military, and serving on the Oromocto, New Brunswick town council. He began volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross in 1991. He helped provide relief to Kosovar refugees housed in Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in 1999. The following year Arslanian was part of the ICRC mission in Georgia, managing a Red Cross team of 43 people who helped provide 5,000 tons of relief material on a monthly basis. Iraq was his second international mission. While there, he was quoted as saying: “The most satisfaction you get is helping people. It's something that touches the heart; it gives you great satisfaction.”

Vatche Arslanian Memorial

Vatche Arslanian Memorial
Memorial for Vatche Arslanian, ICRC delegate killed in Baghdad. Photo: Thierry, Gassmann, ICRC.
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Program from the Canadian Red Cross Vatche Arslanian memorial service in Oromocto, New Brunswick on April 15, 2003. The public ceremony in honour of Vatche was held simultaneously with memorials in Geneva, Switzerland; Ottawa, Ontario; and Toronto, Ontario. Courtesy of Michael Staples
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Geneva, Switzerland. ICRC headquarters with the flag at half-mast in honour of Vatche Arslanian. Photo: Thierry, Gassmann, ICRC.

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