ANTAKYA, Turkey — Syrian refugees who had been angered by the Trump administration’s attempts to ban them from the US found themselves suddenly torn in their feelings toward the US president in the wake of airstrikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime.
It was the Assad regime that drove them from the country — with attacks on civilians like the chemical weapons strike it launched in the town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday. Now, with Trump hitting back overnight Thursday to punish Syria for the massacre, after years of pleas by Syrians for US intervention, and banging the drum about regime change, some have started to see him a different light — while still remaining wary.
“As Syrians, we have mixed feelings today,” said Wasim Ghazi, a Syrian refugee who now lives in Spain. “Trump, who banned Syrians — and many people around the world were outraged with that racist ban — actually made us happy today.”
“We don't know if this is part of a larger plan to change the military situation on the ground in favour of the opposition or just a message from Trump to Assad and Putin,” Ghazi said. “For us it’s very symbolic and equally important that Assad can’t always get away with his crimes.”
Mezar Metar, a Syrian refugee in Istanbul, was also conflicted. “Trump is not a pigeon of peace. He may have made this decision for political ends,” he said. “I am sure that someone like Trump will not come to spread democracy and peace in Syria because he did not do this in his country.”
But Trump might also be the kind of person who can take on Assad and his Russian allies, Metar said. “There are rude presidents who rule Syria like Putin and Assad — and Trump was bolder and ruder than the others to make such a decision, unlike Obama, who remained silent on Assad’s crimes against humanity. I am certainly not a Trump fan, but I am very happy with this decision to punish Assad for his crimes.”
Another Syrian, who works for a US program in Turkey and requested anonymity to avoid being fired, echoed a common concern of US policymakers — wondering whether the strikes were part of a more comprehensive plan. “In the end [I worry that] there is no long-term plan for Trump, and he doesn’t know what to do next,” he said. “There must be a plan for a political transition of power in Syria with the US in support, not only by hitting an airport here and an airport there.”
“Certainly I didn’t change my mind about Trump as a person,” he added. “At least it is a message to Syria that their blood is not cheap.”
Munzer al-Awad is a journalist based in Istanbul.
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