Oscar-nominated director of the HBO documentary, “Cries From Syria,” Evgeny Afineevsky, says Syrians are “applauding” Thursday’s U.S. missile strike for bringing attention to the crisis. But he believes the attack has done little to help victims of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“I spoke to some of my friends on the ground, my characters from my movie, and everyone is applauding because for them it was some kind of reaction from the world to these mass killings,” Afineevsky told TheWrap from his home in Los Angeles. “But what they didn’t know is that our government advised Russia that they were planning to attack, and Russia, in cooperation with Assad, removed all valuables and people from the airbase so that outcome was much smaller.”
ABC News reported on Friday that Syrian military officials “appeared to anticipate” Thursday night’s raid, evacuating personnel equipment ahead of the strike.
Still, Afineevsky says the attack was a step in the right direction.
“More and more people are waking up in the United States,” he said. “And at the end of the day, it might bring about some action.”
An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, 4.8 million people have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Another 6.6 million have been internally displaced within Syria.
Afineevsky talked to TheWrap about what’s happening in Syria, what his Syrian friends think about the attack, and that comment by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, which critics say may have given Assad the green light to gas his own people.
TheWrap: So are you optimistic? Or are you disappointed by the Trump administration’s strike?
Evgeny Afineevsky: I see in every situation the positive and negative.
Some critics have asked, if President Trump is so ‘horrified,’ as he says, why is he still pushing his refugee ban? Do you think Trump is a hypocrite?
There is no connection from one action to another action. I can’t call him names but he’s acting not rational and each of his actions shows that. He’s closing the doors to Syrian people but at the same time he’s sending missiles without even asking the government. And another thing, he’s saying to the Russians, ‘Please remove your people from the ground because we’re going to attack,’ and then he attacks. So at the end of the day his actions are not connected to each other.
Do you think Trump can help Syria?
He may be a successful businessman who’s been many times in bankruptcy and knows how to get out of that. But at the same time, he runs the country and the government with no knowledge. What happened last night on one side shows that, yes, we can try to help these people. But was it proper help? I’m not sure.
What are your friends in Syria saying?
Some of them say, ‘finally Americans make some steps,’ and they are happy with that. The crimes are not left unpunished. One of the characters from the movie, Hadi Alabdallah, he openly praised the attack. But he also points that Syrians are being killed in different ways by Assad. He’s basically saying this is not enough. But at the same time you can see the atrocities are continuing. One of the cinematographers on ‘White Helmets,’ Khaled Khatib, posted that the attacks have no hurt Assad as much. The fear and horror Assad is bringing continues despite American airstrike. The point is that Assad is still in power ands still killing. He’s saying this is not enough.
Bana Alabed, another character from my movie, points that at same time we sent our missiles more civilians were being bombed by Assad and Russians. We did not surprise Assad. Again, without strategy this is just a waste of tax payers money and our ammunition.
Can Trump stop Assad?
This will not stop Assad. It needs to be run by intelligence and it needs to be done with the cooperation of the coalition and NATO who fight ISIS and who are fighting Assad. At the end of the day, it must be a strategy. You need to know what you’re targeting. Not empty bases.
Assad used chemical weapons on his people just days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the status of Assad would be decided by the Syrian people. Some argue that statement essentially gave Assad a carte blanche to kill whomever he wants. Do you think Tillerson made a mistake?
He’s not a career diplomat. Sometimes he doesn’t realize that what what he says carries a lot of weight… Syrian people have no choice. If you say Assad is no good you will be killed or poisoned. At the end of the day there is no democracy and there is no freedom… We need to be careful with every statement we make.