I am delighted to welcome the participants at the Third Conference of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.
IOPS’s activities, as the oldest community organisation of our country, make a significant contribution to the strengthening of cultural and humanitarian ties between the peoples of Russia and the Middle East. Preserving its commitment to its fundamental tasks – promoting ideals of peace, goodness, enlightenment and extension of pilgrimage – the Society contributes to the restoration of a Russian presence in the Holy Land, and an extension of Russia’s multifaceted relations with the Middle East region. The multifaceted work of IOPS helps to establish moral values and spread the rich achievements of the Russian culture.
Education and humanitarian programmes are being implemented successfully. In 2013, 395,000 Russian nationals – almost 20% more than in the previous year – visited the Holy Land. Many of them made pilgrimage journeys, including within the ambit of the IOPS.
In 2014, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture and the IOPS Centre, which were opened in Bethlehem in 2012, are working successfully. This September, the first “Russian” school, which is being built at the expense of Russian budget funds, will welcome its first pupils in the City of the Nativity. Repair and restoration works in the Sergius Metochin in Jerusalem are coming to an end. We expect that next year this pearl of the Russian Palestine will open its doors for visitors.
The noble and peaceful Society’s mission is especially in demand with the uneasy situation in this region. The large-scale transformation processes, which have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, have intensified instability in the region. In addition to the old conflicts, new crisis points are emerging, ethnic and sectarian relations have escalated in several countries. The situation of Christian communities, which frequently become victims of terrorists and extremists, has become more complicated. A lot of cases of violence, including massacres in places of residence of the Orthodox population, murders of monks, taking priests as hostages, desecration of temples, have been stated. Thousands of Christians became refugees.
Russia supports the fundamental transformation in some states and the aspiration of Arab people to take the path of democratic development and welfare. We are convinced that these tasks should be implemented by peaceful means, through evolution, and through an inclusive national dialogue. Any attempts to impose outside values and a 'One size fits all' approach will have serious negative consequences. We need to respect cultural and civilisational peculiarities, independence and individuality of peoples, and their right to determine their own future independently.
Today, the attention of the international community is focuses on the armed conflict in Syria, where people die every day, the social and economic infrastructure is being destroyed and hundreds of civilians are forced to leave their homes escaping from the atrocities by militants. Dozens of thousands of people have already suffered from them. Russia is undertaking urgent efforts in the interests of a faster end to the bloodshed in this country and the achievement of a political settlement by re-establishing the Geneva negotiation process according to the agreed agenda. Confronting extremists and terrorists, which are becoming stronger in Syria, is of special attention.
Along with political and diplomatic efforts to resolve this conflict peacefully, Russia is providing humanitarian aid to Syria. The IOPS makes its own contribution into the easing of the situation of the Syrian population – the Society delivered 10 shipments of humanitarian cargo. We believe that any attempts to politicise the humanitarian crisis, using it to justify any external interference by force is counterproductive.
The assistance in the search for mutually acceptable agreements on the available international legal basis is the basis of our approach to the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now it is important to keep the channels open for the renewal of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We are ready to participate in collective work in the interests of achieving a comprehensive, fair and stable solution of the Palestinian problem, which is aimed at providing security, good-neighbourliness and a decent future for the people of Palestine, Israel and all other countries of the region.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to provide the Society all kinds of support in the implementation of its plans, which are envisaged to contribute to the reinforcement of Russia’s ties with the Holy Land, the establishment of the objective image of our country in the Middle East, and the promotion of an inter-sectarian and inter-civilisational dialogue.
I wish the conference successful work.
MFA of Russia