Syrian Kurds Calm Down After Week of Riots

Fires still burned on the outskirts of Qamishli on Friday, eight days after the start of Kurdish-Arab riots that spread to three other north Syrian towns and killed 25 people.

Faisal Youssef, an executive of the Progressive Kurdish Party (search), said the city, 450 miles northeast of Damascus, was returning to normal, but local Kurdish groups have canceled their celebrations to mark Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year, which falls on Sunday.

The festivities, which usually feature bonfires and folk dancing, will not take place "to prevent infiltrators from undermining historic relations between Kurds and Arabs," Youssef said Thursday by telephone.

Kurds in Syria, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon and Iranians mark Nowruz (search) on March 21 every year. The feast, which symbolizes purification of the soul, dates back to the pre-Islamic religion of Zoroastrianism (search).

Clouds of smoke that could be seen in neighboring Turkey rose from barns of fodder set alight last weekend during the riots, Youssef said.

The violence began March 12 with a brawl between supporters of two teams in a soccer stadium in Qamishli. One team had many Kurdish players, the other had Arab players. The fighting continued the next day when Kurds went on the rampage during a funeral for the riot victims, and it spread to Hasakah, 50 miles southwest of Qamishli.

On Tuesday, Kurds battled Arab policemen in Syria's second-biggest city, Aleppo (search), 200 miles north of Damascus, and the nearby town of Afreen.

The government has blamed the violence on what it calls "mobs and opportunists" that have been influenced from abroad.

In the government's first report on casualties, Syrian Interior Minister Ali Hammoud said Thursday that 25 people were killed in the violence.

Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, Hammoud said there were attempts to "sow sedition" and that authorities had to take "decisive" measures after efforts to end the trouble peacefully failed.

The United States has criticized the Syrian government's handling of the riots.

"Citizens of Kurdish descent have been protesting the lack of equal rights and, in the ensuing violence, the authorities have not only killed and injured demonstrators, but also clamped down hard on normal life in cities where there's a Kurdish majority," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

It is thought that the Kurds, whom the Syrian constitution does not recognize, may have been inspired by the political rise of Kurds in neighboring Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein last year.

Kurds comprise about 1.5 million of Syria's 18.5 million people and live mostly in the underdeveloped provinces of Qamishli and Hasakah.

A Syrian rights group, the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights (search), called on the government Thursday to release all political prisoners, "particularly those who were detained recently" in the Kurdish rioting.

An estimated 250 Kurds have been detained since the violence began.