IOPS chairman asks Iraqi president to release Tariq Aziz

Moscow, October 23, Interfax – The chairman of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society (IOPS), Sergey Stepashin, has called on Iraqi President Fuad Masum to order the release of the country’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, who has been held in prison for more than 11 years.

“This 78-year-old man is seriously ill. He has had a stroke and suffers from acute diabetes and problems with the heart and lungs. One cannot help but feel sympathy for a person in such a situation. In Russia this ex-Iraqi political figure is known as an ardent supporter of the development of Arab-Russian relations and as a highly educated person,” Stepashin said in his letter to Masum. A copy of this document was forwarded to Interfax-Religion on Thursday.

If the Iraqi authorities agree to show mercy “amid this unprecedented violence and the atrocities committed by Islamic State terrorists, it would help further promote the principles of humanism in Iraqi society and would send a clear and positive signal to the entire international community”, which has already welcomed Masum’s efforts “aimed at securing national reconciliation and bolstering stability within Iraqi society,” Stepashin said.

Islamic State militants are causing great suffering to millions of people and are posing a serious threat to the sovereignty of Iraq, he said.

The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society intends to extend humanitarian aid to Iraq and refugees, who “are experiencing great hardships and suffering”, he said.

Society deputy chairperson Yelena Agapova, for her part, told Interfax that representatives of this organization could soon travel to Iraq’s Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where they would meet with the leaders of Iraq’s religious minorities and Kurd officials responsible for accommodating refugees and distributing humanitarian aid.

For the first time in 100 years, the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society will resume cooperation with the Assyrians, who acutely need international protection, Agapova said. As many as 1.5 million Christians had lived in Iraq before the war, she said. The Assyrians mainly lived in the Mosul district, which is now under the control of the Islamic State. This area was once home to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire.

Scores of Christians, including Assyrians, were killed, and many of them were forced to flee to Kurdistan.

The IOPS was founded in 1882 at the behest of Russian Emperor Alexander III. The Society’s main objectives and goals: to organize Russian pilgrimage to the Holy Lands (Palestine, Mount Athos, Bari), to assist the Russian Church in its service in abroad, to conduct cultural and education activities among the Middle Eastern population and to study the historical legacy of the Holy Land.