ROME (Reuters)–Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan–in detention in Italy–has defended his cause as a struggle against genocide and said he now wants to turn to Europe for help.
Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has fought for 14 years for self-rule in southeast Turkey. Since he was arrested in Rome three weeks ago–he has requested asylum and said he is ready to work to halt terrorism and find a political solution.
"I am applying for political asylum for the following reasons: to avoid the total annihilation of a people through genocide," Ocalan said in the opening lines of his asylum application–obtained by the Corriere della Sera newspaper and published on Wednesday.
He also said the PKK was going to stop seeking support from Middle Eastern sponsors and protectors who were interested only in providing aid for armed resistance.
Instead–it was now looking to "the Old Continent" where parliamen’s and political parties were more sensitive to the appeals of an oppressed people.
Ocalan said he wanted European countries and institutions to put pressure on Turkey and–through political and diplomatic means–to expose the contradiction of a country knocking on the door of the European Union while alienating itself through its treatment of the Kurds–Corriere said.
He said a renunciation of violence held no fears for him–and that it would have been very hard to win a military campaign against Ankara.
Turkey blames Ocalan and the PKK for the more than 29,000 deaths caused by Kurdish fighters and Turkish armed forces in the last 14 years.
But it has seen its extradition request turned down by Italy because it has the death penalty on its books. Germany has declined to follow up on an international arrest warrant it had issued accusing Ocalan of inciting followers to murder.
"I created the PKK to defend the identity and the freedom of our nation," Ocalan said in his asylum appeal.
"Despite the history of the Kurdish people which goes back more than 2,500 years–the Republic of Turkey continues to deny the existence of this people or its identity–language and culture."
Italian Interior Minister Rosa Russo Jervolino said on Monday that a commission of her ministry would examine Ocalan’s asylum request after December 22.
But Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema said on Tuesday Ocalan should be brought before a court to face a fair trial.
At the same time–however–the international community had to do all it could to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question–D’Alema said.
The prime minister was due to address Italy’s lower house of parliament on the Ocalan affair at the end of question time on Wednesday.