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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have a minor dispute I think. Will some of you be able to work it out?
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AMANPOUR: President Trump in London comes into contact with a combative French president, Macron, over NATO, ISIS and Turkey. We discuss and we
hear from the top advisor to the Turkish president.
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SHIRIN NESHAT, ARTIST: In every one of us, there is a sense of anxiety and fear.
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AMANPOUR: Protests in Iran scores a dead. We asked two prominent Iranian exiles, human rights activists, Hadi Ghaemi and artist, Shirin Neshat.
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FERAS FAYYAD, DIRECTOR, “THE CAVE”: They have to tell everyone here, everyone listening and everyone seeing, this is the (INAUDIBLE) of every
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Filmmaker, Feras Fayyad, shines a light in “The Cave,” a secret Syrian hospital and its star physician, Dr. Amani Ballor.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
President Trump is here for NATO’s 70th birthday. Content that it’s been somewhat reshaped during his time in office, able to boast that other
members are ponying up to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and issuing a Trumpian threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Different than it was, much bigger than it was and much stronger than it was because people are now fulfilling their commitments. There are
some countries that aren’t fulfilling their commitment and those countries are going to be dealt with. Maybe I’ll deal with that from a trade
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, unusual attention was on display between President Trump and the leader he once seemed to like, French president, Emmanuel Macron,
went toe to toe with Trump over NATO, ISIS and Turkey. Macron had, you remember, famously called NATO brain dead. Trump called that nasty and
Macron doubled down.
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EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: I know that my statements created some reactions and take a little bit a lot of people. I do standby. When we
speak about NATO it’s not just about nourishments (ph), we have to be respectful —
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: He said we have to be respectful because he pointed out that French boots are on the ground against terrorism further afield, in Africa
Now, here to discuss all of this is Bobby Ghosh, a columnist for “Bloomberg Opinion.”
Bobby Ghosh, welcome to the program.
BOBBY GHOSH, BLOOMBERG OPINION EDITOR: Hi, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, OK, let’s break down some of what just happened. On the one hand, myself and others who follow this closely and probably you too, have
been surprised by President Trump’s mostly fulsome support and praise of NATO. Am I right?
GHOSH: Yes, it’s quite astonishing. This is the man, two years ago, when he went to his first NATO summit took a flame thrower to the thing, a
blowtorch to the thing and suggested that the U.S. didn’t need NATO anymore. He asked questions about why America was protecting other
countries. There was a lot of sort of anti-NATO sentiment coming out of the White House for two years.
So, this is a big, bit turnaround. And I think one of the people who — one of the unsung heroes of this, one of the people who has helped him
change his mind is Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, who has been working very, very carefully and slowly and steadily to change the
president’s view on NATO.
He’s also been working on all the other NATO leaders persuading them to allow President Trump to think of these things as his victories. So, when
the president claims that NATO members are paying more into the pot because of him, part of Jens Stoltenberg job is to tell all those other NATO
leaders, let him have that. Let him think that. Let him buy into it and have him an investment into NATO. It’s worked. It’s — after all this
time, it’s working like a charm.
AMANPOUR: And you know what, I had the opportunity of interviewing the secretary general yesterday and the run up to this meeting, and he
obviously didn’t put it that way because he’s incredibly diplomatic and as you say, has a very persistence, calm behind the scenes role that he’s
playing and it seems to get on pretty well with Donald Trump.
But he said, look, you know, he can claim politically, if he needs to at home, that, yes, there are now hundreds of billions of dollars more in the
NATO Kitty. And if you remember, they even got the American contribution to the administrative costs in Brussels to come down while raising other
GHOSH: Yes. That’s been a talking point for Trump. That’s something he can take to his electoral base in the United States and say to them, I
forced all these European countries, these free riders who are depending on American support to continue to — for their security, I have persuaded
them to begin pony up, pay their fair share, the Germans, particularly. And that’s great.
And Stoltenberg’s wisdom isn’t just allowing Trump to say that for the domestic audience as long as NATO gets protected, preserved and the
American commitment to it remains.
AMANPOUR: And President Trump gave verbal assurance of that, he said, we’re 100 percent in. We come to the defense of our allies even though
they’ve been free loading, he says, as a side, but we will be there.
But interestingly, on the substance of all of this now, President Macron, here’s President Trump as we’ve been talking about all evening, that he is
now arriving at the Buckingham Palace, having had tea with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House, which is not too far away
from there. But he arrives, perhaps enabled or, as a result, a reaction to President Macron having called NATO brain dead. President Trump, as we
know, called that nasty. But it’s almost like unleashed him and given him the possibility of being the big chief to embrace NATO.
GHOSH: Yes. It’s a return to America’s natural role in NATO being the leader of the table, bringing everybody together. You’re absolutely right.
This is — Macron seems to be politically trying to occupy the space being gradually vacated by Merkel. Macron recognizes that Chancellor Merkel is
about to head off into the sunset pretty soon and he wants to step up and play the role of Europe’s leader.
This is Trump reminding him who is really boss in NATO. Macron might very well have ordered a bunch to frigates to create a European navy, but when
it comes to NATO, there is only one leader in that pack and the leader has to be the United States.
AMANPOUR: In a lot of areas. But of course, in terms of NATO on the ground, you know, overseas, so to speak, turkey has the biggest land army
and the biggest forces and Turkey is the bone of contention right now. And that is what prompted Macron’s brain dead comment, because of what he
perceived and what most are perceive as an agreement, without all the others knowing, without the 29 members knowing, that Trump was saying yes
to Turkey’s operations in Northern Syria and their attack on the YPG, which obviously was the West allies in fighting ISIS.
Again, President Trump and Melania Trump getting out of their limousine. I believe it’s called “The Beast” and it travels with them when they come
from the United States. Highly armored vehicle. Him going into the palace for the reception with the queen and the rest of the NATO leaders being
welcomed there on the formal steps as they go in.
But what about this? This is a big issue, isn’t it?
AMANPOUR: If two leaders can make a huge decision like that at the expense of allies on the ground, what does it say about NATO as a unified being?
What does it say about allies? Can allies, which come to NATO’s rescue and help, ever count on the United States or Turkey again?
GHOSH: Well, with Turkey — on Turkey, I think Macron has a very strong point and he’s not alone. A lot of people quietly have been asking the
same questions as he has. And in the U.S., the majority of the U.S. Congress on both sides of the political divide there are not sure that he
can be relied upon as an ally anymore.
And it’s not just a question of Turkey taking military action against former American allies in Syria. Turkey is buying Russian military
hardware that potentially comprises NATO defenses. Turkey fundamentally disagrees with NATO’s view on Russia. NATO was created and still exists to
protect Europe from Russia.
Erdogan says, Russia is my friend. He is not my enemy. Well, if that’s his view, then you have to ask some questions about whether Turkey still
belongs in the NATO group. Now, NATO, peculiarly, does not have an arrangement for kicking out a member. A member could conceivably leave but
that’s not entirely clear.
But we have this peculiar situation where you have now within the alliance somebody who does not behave like an ally and who is deeply suspicious. He
seems more suspicious, Erdogan does, of the United States than he does of Russia. That’s a turnaround that nobody would have expected 70 years ago
when NATO was first created.
AMANPOUR: And very briefly on the issue of terrorism, which NATO seems to have done most of its fighting since 2001, it’s been terrorism. And Trump
and Macron went back and forth on that too. Trump seeming to make a joke about sending nice “ISIS fighters to France” and Macron saying to him
boldly, let’s be serious about this. And then, you know, fact checking the situation that most of the ISIS fighters were, in fact, on the ground in
I mean, you know, we’ve got fundamental disagreements with some of the most active and powerful members of the alliance and yet it endures.
GHOSH: Yes, it does. It has endured 70 years with ups and downs. But I think now there’s a fundamental philosophical question that
needs to be addressed. NATO has taken the lead in fighting terrorism in some places. It is talking about doing more against the cyber threats to
the West. There’s even talk of a space force, just the kind of thing that Trump loves to hear.
But that was not why NATO was set up. NATO was set up to protect the West, Europe primarily against Russia. We can’t get too far away from that
primary mission because Russia represents still a threat. Russia has not gone away as a threat. If anything, it’s become more sophisticated, more
insidious as a threat.
NATO needs to recommit to that and it needs all of its allies, 29 members, to agree. And those who don’t agree have to ask themselves whether they
really belong in that group.
AMANPOUR: It’s really fascinating. And we’re going to be following on this particular topic in a moment.
Bobby Ghosh, thank you very much for joining us.
GHOSH: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, as we said, some of Macron’s sharpest criticism was aimed at fellow NATO leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MACRON: The common enemy today is the terrorist groups. I’m sorry to say, we don’t have the same definition of terrorism around the table.
When I look at Turkey, they now are fighting against those who fight with us, who fought with us shoulder to shoulder against ISIS. And sometimes
they work with ISIS proxies. (INAUDIBLE) issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Erdogan actually called Macron brain dead for questioning his offensive into Syria. And now Erdogan is doubling down by blocking a NATO
defense plan for the Baltic’s and Poland unless Turkey receive support for its effort to defeat Syrian Kurd forces on its borders.
Now, Gulnur Aybet is a senior advisor to President Erdogan, and she is joining me now.
Welcome to the program.
GULNUR AYBET, SENIOR ADVISER TO TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: Hello.
AMANPOUR: You are traveling with the president on this summit.
AYBET: Yes, that’s right.
AMANPOUR: We just saw him entering Downing Street —
AMANPOUR: — for his meeting back then. And assuming, they’re all together in the palace now.
AMANPOUR: OK. There is trouble in paradise, in the NATO paradise, isn’t there? And your president is coming out for singular criticism from the
French president. Can you first tell me what you think of all this insult slighting that seems to be going around? You know, brain dead, brain dead,
I mean, really?
AYBET: Well, I mean, you know, Turkey and President Erdogan were not the questions who questioned Article 5. They weren’t the ones who called NATO
brain dead. So, I think what my president was saying in response to Macron’s very unusual remarks was that, you know, to actually call an
organization that’s defended you for 70 years dead, you really got to be out of your mind. I think that’s what he was saying.
AMANPOUR: Well, he did say that.
AMANPOUR: He said, I will also say this, first of all, have your own brain death checked, he said to Macron. You know how to show off but you cannot
even properly pay for NATO. No one cares about you. You’re still a novice. Deal with that first. Yikes.
AYBET: Well, you know —
AMANPOUR: But when they come face to face in Buckingham Palace, how are they going to meet each other, greet each other?
AYBET: Well, leaders, you know, they have a way of talking around problems when they have to. Because at the end of the day, you know, there is a
sense of responsibility. We’re all NATO allies. And, you know, Turkey has been an earth well NATO ally and lots of people are talking — there’s all
this talk, Christiane, about Turkey not being a reliable ally and so forth. I keep hearing this.
And I find it very upsetting because I know I’ve worked on NATO for like 30 years and I know this is not true because, you know, Turkey has continued
all this time as the technocratic silent ally involved fully in the all the planning and all the operation, defending Europe. That is still going on
in the background. But nobody talks about that.
And then, you know, you mention this Kurdish group which are a terrorist group attacking us from Syria. And it’s a really fundamental existential
national security concern for us. And NATO allies have really failed to understand that.
AMANPOUR: OK. I realized that —
AYBET: And I think that’s where we are. You know, we’re trying to make them understand this because allies have to be there for other allies when
there’s a deep national security threat.
AMANPOUR: And I think this is where the point is, allies being there for allies.
AMANPOUR: And as you know, the West considers the YPG allies, critical allies. In fact, without the YPG, there was no hope against ISIS because
certainly American boots were not on the ground nowhere were any other —
AYBET: Well, American boots were not on the ground. That’s true.
AMANPOUR: And nor was anybody else.
AYBET: But they were not the crucial fighting force against ISIS. Turkey —
AMANPOUR: Well, the West believes that they were.
AYBET: Well —
AMANPOUR: And I want to play a soundbite from President Macron talking about NATO’s, you know, need to confront — well, we actually just did play
it, just while we were waiting for you. Basically —
AMANPOUR: — Macron saying that —
AYBET: What did he say?
AMANPOUR: He basically said that, we don’t have the same definition or — of what terrorism is. When I look at Turkey, they’re now fighting against
those who fought with us, shoulder to shoulder against ISIS, and sometimes they work with ISIS proxies. This is an issue.
AYBET: That’s rubbish. No, I think, really, President Macron has been saying some very interesting and very shocking things actually recently
with the conference with President Trump as well. I think his advisors are advising this totally wrong way.
I mean, he mentioned that, for example, the S-400 that France was ready to sell Turkey the SMPT and they didn’t. And this is not true because they
gave us a waiting period of 54 months, four years. And we asked for an interim system and they wouldn’t give that. And after that, when we signed
with the S-400, they turned around and said, look, we can actually give it to you now. And now, he says, oh, we were willing to give it from the
beginning. See, this is like — I think is like bad advice he’s getting. He’s not telling the truth.
AMANPOUR: So, you — as you say, you’ve been working on NATO issues for Turkey, I guess, for a long, long time.
AYBET: Yes. And generally, NATO as well.
AMANPOUR: And generally?
AMANPOUR: Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general, told me that on no account can these S-400s, which you all bought from Russia, on no account
can they be integrated in the NATO defense and other operations.
AYBET: I would say that’s fine.
AMANPOUR: But, also, all these other officials are reminding us that, in fact, NATO was created as a bulwark, as a defense against Soviet aggression
and now, Russian interference and aggression. And yet, President Erdogan seems to be pally, pally and cozy, cozy with President Putin. So, how can
he have it both ways? How can he do that?
AYBET: Well, just look at the map where Turkey is and look at its geostrategic significance and its neighbors. It has to have some sort of a
relationship with Russia. Not only do we have to cooperate in issues like energy, very important, there’s a Turkey stream and so forth, and there’s
also the issue of Syria, because Russia is there, you can’t deny that they’re there, right?
So, it’s the reality. But we have to compartmentalized relationship. There are issues that we don’t agree with such as Ukraine, obviously, where
we’re very — got very good relations with Ukraine as well. So — and Russia is very pragmatic about that. They know that we don’t agree on
certain things and they are quite happy to cooperate with us out of necessity when they have to.
And I think that’s just a necessity because of where we are and who we are, but it’s got nothing to do, no bearings ph) upon our commitment as NATO.
And also, Macron himself said we really need to, as NATO, rethink about how we engage Russia.
AMANPOUR: Right. But —
AYBET: And — one of the few things that I do agree with him, I do agree on that. NATO does not have a new way of engaging with Russia, and it does
really need to have one.
AMANPOUR: But, you know, you say you’re, you know, pro NATO but you’re blocking NATO’s defense pact for the Baltic’s and for Poland, I think.
Pending NATO agreeing with your demand that the YPG be called terrorists. I mean, that’s —
AYBET: That’s not exactly the way —
AMANPOUR: — a strong man’s view of an alliance partnership.
AYBET: Well, it was leaked to the press, first of all. This is an internal NATO matter. So, it shouldn’t really be talked about in the open
like this. Unfortunately, it was leaked. And it was — it’s actually —
AMANPOUR: Is that what you’re doing, though?
AMANPOUR: Is that what Turkey is doing?
AMANPOUR: Is threatening to block all communiques and block this defense pact?
AYBET: No, no. See, this is why when you hear something leaked it doesn’t always reflect the truth.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, tell me what it is.
AYBET: So, basically, there are defense plans, right, for each NATO country, and in NATO’s defense and Turkey’s defense plan. For us, as I
said, it’s an existential security threat because they dug a black — like we’ve already blocked like 465 tunnels in just the area we’ve done the
operation. These are tunnels running from Syria into our country.
If this group, so you say, we call them terrorists, of course, are just minding their business in Syria, why are they digging tunnels into our
AMANPOUR: But are you holding NATO’s defense pact hostage —
AYBET: No, no.
AMANPOUR: — until the rest of NATO members —
AMANPOUR: — agree with you?
AYBET: We have an internal disagreement about security threat prioritization. And the security threats as they’re classified between
allies. It’s an internal security matter. Turkey has always been there for the defense of Eastern European states. In fact, we’re taking over the
command of the NATO Spearhead Force in 2021.
So, this is a problem that we shouldn’t be discussing publicly because I know that, at the moment, it is being resolved within NATO. But it’s very
unfair to say that Turkey is blocking this because they don’t recognize this and that.
And I want to just add one more thing about ISIS. Turkey is the one country in all the allied coalition against ISIS that’s cleared more
territory from ISIS than others. Single handedly.
AMANPOUR: Gulnur Aybet, thank you very much, indeed, for joining me/
AYBET: Thank you so much, Christiane. Pleasure to talk to you as ever.
AMANPOUR: Now, during President Trump’s marathon meeting with President Macron today, he also brought up Iran. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If you look at what started on Iran, they have massive riots, they have a protest all over the country and they’re killing a lot of people.
Everybody knows that, that’s why they turned off their impudence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Amnesty International says 200 people have been killed in protest fuel after the government hiked petrol prices by 50 percent
without warming last month. The violence shows the intensity of anger amongst the Iranians but feelings of repression and discontent are
(INAUDIBLE). And they are captured in an exhibition of female Iranian artist mostly living outside the country and curated by Iranian
photographer and filmmaker, Shirin Neshat. I met her and another prominent exile, human rights activist, Hadi Ghaemi, at a gallery in New York City,
where they are trying to highlight the nexus between politics, protest and culture.
Welcome to the program.
Let me start by asking you, Shirin, what this artistic war represents. Why have you done this?
SHIRIN NESHAT, ARTIST: Well, when I got invited by Center for Human Rights in Iran, I’ve been an advocate for — to make any (INAUDIBLE) that
celebrates the work but also raises some funds. I thought the most meaningful way of engaging into that is looking at the trajectory of my own
work as an artist whose life has been defined by revolution. And my work is really directly a reflection of my personal life and how you can’t
discuss my work without looking at the circumstances that are all political.
So, I tried to look at other Iranian women artists mainly living Diaspora, some born the Islamic revolution and some born after, some coming out of
Iran voluntarily, some fleeing because of the political situation, some being brought by their family. But regardless, every one of them have an
obsession with Iran. And how their lives of immigrants and how their resolved or unresolved relationship to Iran seems to be a defining point in
AMANPOUR: And Hadi, you are head of the human rights organization for Iran, what is it about art that can raise awareness about human rights.
Why have you partnered with Shirin on this?
HADI GHAEMI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN: Well, we think arts and culture are extremely important for both defending artistic
freedom in Iran and artist have some (ph) freedom of expression is the major issue. And so, Iranian artists, especially post-revolutionary
generation have so many experiences of war, revolution, exile, repression and they use their art to communicate that.
And we think that our message can really reach a much broader public through art, music and film. So, we have chosen to put a lot of attention
to that because we don’t want preach to the converted, we want to really build the culture of tolerance, respect for freedom of expression and
artistic freedoms in Iran.
AMANPOUR: This exhibition is happening, and I don’t know whether it was intended to happen, right in the middle of the worst protests that Iran has
seen, at least, in the last couple of years. And the economic protest which was fueled by the rise of 50 percent of fuel prices.
Tell us what you know about the protests because the internet was cut, there are very few independent reporters out there. We don’t really know
the extent of what’s meant on the ground.
GHAEMI: What really shocked me about this protest was that the government was completely prepared for it. Had a planned. They knew protests will
break out. And what was really disturbing is that they started shooting right away. They had given orders shoot to kill. More 140 people at least
have been killed. They shut the internet. They completely denied domestic media and journalist cover, any of it. I was in touch with journalist from
the Iran who had no information and were told they can’t even tweet about it.
And on a bigger, broader political analysis, I would say this was actually a very major event in concentrating political power at the top of the
pyramid in Iran. It basically completely defanged and made the parliament irrelevant.
AMANPOUR: So, it seems to have died down somewhat and it seems that the internet is somewhat restored. But, of course, everybody in the United
States and outside wants to know whether this is going to deliver to President Trump what he wants, which is regime change or somehow cracking
the will of the regime. Do you see that as likely as all? Is there a political backbone or structure to this?
GHAEMI: Trump and the American policy toward Iran, as important as they are, I don’t think are the main deterministic factors here. And Trump and
your administration may use it for their own goals, but I think people in Iran are thinking only about that aspect. They are more concerned about
their very domestic issues and how their government repressing demand, not giving them any space to have representation.
AMANPOUR: So, Shirin, you know, you shy away from the idea of being a political artist. You’ve said to the FT, for instance, I don’t make the
kind of work that’s screaming loud against the government. But as we’ve spoken, it’s happening in this context. These are, in a way, political
statements. I think you did get only one woman who actually currently lives in Iran to contribute, they rest are, as you say, exiles or
members of the Diaspora community. Talk to me a little bit about whether this is political for you.
NESHAT: Well, it’s so interesting how much fear has been infused in each artists’ psyche, even for those of us who live outside, the anxiety of our
family inside of Iran and the idea of if you’re vocal, you know, whether that would be kind of a self-promotion. But yet, witnessing and being
silent is completely grotesque.
And so, I think every artist, in a way, from Iran, whether they’re living inside or outside, are dealing with how to formulate a response that is
meaningful, it’s not dangerous and it’s not a self-promotion. And I think a lot of people do that with rage, a lot of people do that nostalgically
and a lot of people do it very quietly.
I was really impressed by the young woman who lives in Iran, and many artists in Iran declined for all the right reasons, but she agreed. And I
really think that even though the work is not at all political in relation to today’s reality in Iran, but what I wanted to say in every one of us,
there is a sense of anxiety and fear. And that is really something that has lasted through generations. And I see it women who were born before
the revolution, some women who were born after the revolution and I wonder if in the future we could be artists that don’t fear and what kind of work
could we possibly make.
AMANPOUR: For Americans and probably for Europeans and even Iranians inside, do you think they are waiting for the United States government, in
this case, President Trump’s government, to come to the rescue?
GHAEMI: Well, I think the Iranian people would welcome statements of solidarity and moral support from everyone outside. And I would like to
see, you know, all countries to take a position in supporting them. President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have been explicitly talking about
observing the realities in Iran. I mean, really, they’re stating what is happening in the country. Yes, there is a lot of domestic discontent.
What they can do about it, I’m not sure. And what role they themselves are playing in policies towards — like travel ban, travel ban is a collective
punishment of entire Iranian population.
AMANPOUR: That was the ban that President Trump instituted —
AMANPOUR: — within days of his administration.
GHAEMI: Yes. So, what I would like to see if these are some serious statements of solidarity and support, for example, travel ban should be
disbanded immediately. You know, there should be more attention to providing humanitarian aid and things that are not sanctions by the Iranian
people, still have very difficulty humanitarian goods and medicine to access them.
AMANPOUR: But what do you say to Iranians and, frankly, people all over the world who will say that the very government calling for change inside
Iran and appealing to the poverty and the repression is the country who’s made it worse right now, by putting on these draconian sanctions that, of
course, such terrible hardship and poverty?
GHAEMI: Well, that is absolutely true in terms of the comprehensive sanctions. But people in Iran also have been suffering from their own
government’s misguided economic policies and corruption for many, many decades.
NESHAT: Well, I know for a fact, as an Iranian-American, as someone who has curated this show that majority of the artists who live here are facing
the issue of travel ban. Many of them cannot leave the country because they’re afraid they won’t be able to come back.
GHAEMI: Cannot leave this country?
NESHAT: They cannot leave this country and at the same time, it’s not quite safe for them to return to Iran. So, I think Iranian people, artists
included, are very vulnerable with respect to both kind of tyranny in their own country, in Iran, and also here. And so, it’s an incredible amount of
uncertainly, anxiety about the future.
And for a lot of people, economically and also in terms of status as an immigrant. And I think the Iranian people, in fact, particularly those who
are economically deprived are really against the role because they’re getting hit on both sides, the sanctions coming from outside, the pressure
from the inside, the lack of justice and yet, some well-to-do people feeling some kind of relief, and that is the problem, that we don’t have
that sense of unity, I believe, among the Iranian people that really needs to be focused on.
AMANPOUR: Talk to me a little bit about your work. I mean, you are banned.
You can’t go back either.
And you left around the time of the Iranian Revolution. You have a big retrospective in L.A., a big exhibition of your life’s work. What is —
describe for me that exhibition, because we have got some lovely pictures. And what is your work?
NESHAT: Well, it’s interesting, because my very beginning of my career, my work stemmed from my interest, obsession with Iranian Revolution and the
way in which separated me permanently from my country and from my family.
And the work evolved from an artist looking from the outside to her country and trying to comprehend the transformation in the country politically, and
how it affected her personal life, eventually being exiled and looking to other countries.
And, finally, at the latest part of the exhibition, you go to Land of Dreams, where my gaze goes to this country as an Iranian immigrant living
in the U.S.
So I think the exhibition is kind of a survey that sort of follows the trajectory of my personal and artistic life interests of questioning
tyranny and political injustice in Iran, then turning toward Egypt and other countries that I was sort of not biased, and finally arriving into
this country, and being in the city of Los Angeles, where it’s the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran.
So we get to — outside of the art, looking at our own history, and looking at how we have evolved and our issues, our anxieties, but in respect to our
own country and the host country.
AMANPOUR: Talk to me a little bit about the work that really propelled you and cemented you as a major artist, which was the photography. Women of
AMANPOUR: And you had all these amazing slogans, essentially, sayings, painted across features. You showed women, revolutionary women, women with
guns, all sorts of different kinds of women.
Tell me about what you were saying then, which was quite early on in your career.
NESHAT: I became very interested in sort of artistically researching the very foundation of the Islamic Revolution, the concept of martyrdom that
became so popular, almost institutionalized during the Revolution.
And, of course, this goes back a long time ago. But the women that were entirely militant and were willing to go to war, and there was an immediate
paradox between what they envision about Muslim women, Iranian women, and then once they’re armed, and the way in which this paradoxical of women who
love God and their faith, their religion, but are willing to be violent and kill.
So there was this contradiction that I was really interested, since, as women, we give life, we don’t end life.
So it was more of a philosophical, political investigation of a kind of a character that is so much in that intersection of love, and yet violence.
And, oddly, these images Women of Allah that were created from 1993 to 1997, the images still seem very relevant today, and the idea of the
fanaticism and the idea that those who are the leader of certain faith end up in some form of cruelty by being basically brainwashed.
But, anyway, I was not promoting or criticizing through this work, but simply looking at this question on a more philosophical point of view.
AMANPOUR: And, Hadi, and basically to both of you, women have been quite central to these latest protests.
Particularly, you had the hijab protests. You have had women protesting not being allowed to go into stadiums, and now they have won a few battles
as well. And they have lost many battles.
What is the position of women in today’s resistance to this regime?
GHAEMI: I think the very theme of this exhibition that we chose it to be of Iranian women artists is a testimony to the fact that Iranian women are
the most vibrant, most educated and most ambitious in wanting to fulfill their potential.
And the Islamic Republic, in law and practice, has denied them that for too many years. All the examples you gave are the kind of challenges they’re
I believe the future of Iran actually belongs to women. When I look at people who have made a difference in that country or have been most
important professionally, they’re all women.
And this exhibition was going to be a testimony to that. And I think the Iranian government’s biggest challenge is it’s young, educated women who
know that they cannot sit silent and be subjected to the second-class laws and practices. And they’re fighting back.
And, as I said, in the protests, they’re playing a major role as well. And even the political future of the country, all the major advocates — I want
to name one for example, Nasrin Sotoudeh, the leading human rights lawyer in the country, in jail right now.
AMANPOUR: You have said in the past that you have kind of rejected Western paradigm of feminism. You have said: “I express things from the
perspective of a woman, but I don’t have this Western idea of feminism.”
So, in context of the reality of life for Iranian women, and people like yourself outside of Iran, wrap that up for me. What is feminism to you,
NESHAT: Well, I think my idea of feminism, my understanding from the Iranian culture, and which — what inspires me, is not about women to be
equal to men or to compete with men.
It’s not about this kind of comparison. It’s about wanting to have their own rights as a woman, and in both private and public lives, to have their
own place in the society, to have the rights in — at home.
And I often think, in the Western culture, it’s — Western feminism, to me, feels too confused with the idea of women trying to catch up with men at
work or in somehow this sense of equality.
And I have never felt like that. And I know, from my own family, my mother was always the boss. And I think — I think that women in that part of the
world in some ways occupy a certain role that is not comparable to men, and they don’t want it to be, like, masculine. And there’s no interest in
And I think very much that’s been translated to the new generation. As you can see, they’re very feminine, but they’re very active and very defined in
every aspect of the society.
They’re very beautiful, but they — also very confrontational when it comes to protest. And there’s something fearless about them.
AMANPOUR: Hadi Ghaemi, thank you very much.
Shirin Neshat, thank you.
NESHAT: Thank you.
GHAEMI: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: An amazing group of female artists for human rights.
And now we turn our attention to another inspirational woman.
A new film, “The Cave,” documents the work of Syrian Dr. Amani Ballour as she manages an underground hospital in Ghouta outside Damascus during the
Emmy Award-winning Feras Fayyad directed the film, which follows Dr. Ballour dealing with daily bombings and the ongoing threat of chemical
Our Hari Sreenivasan sat down with him to discuss “The Cave” and his own traumatic experience of being kidnapped and imprisoned in Syria. And, of
course, his story reflects the incredible harshness that he had to endure.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So you start with seven different hospitals. You’re getting footage from all these different
places. How did you settle on this hospital and this — the one character that I want to ask you about, Dr. Amani?
She’s the first woman leading, what, a staff of 140 people in this underground hospital. How did you settle on this?
FERAS FAYYAD, DIRECTOR, “THE CAVE”: When we start — when we continue shooting, I find out there is something special with Dr. Amani, because I
kept talking to her, and find out, like, she have a very, very special way of leading the hospital.
And then I figure out that she’s the first woman to lead a hospital in history of Syria. But she was also helping the women to work in the
hospital. She built a role of equality. She built a space for these women to find their identity.
And this is what the culture doing. What Dr. Amani doing, it’s really rare, but it’s brave and different level.
SREENIVASAN: And she is doing this in a culture that’s been very chauvinistic and sexist.
There’s a clip of that in the film I want to show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE CAVE”)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Then where can I get the medicine?
DR. AMANI BALLOUR, SYRIA (through translator): Al-Ghouta is besieged. There’s no medicine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Find someone who can help me.
BALLOUR (through translator): What do you mean?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A male manager who can do a better job.
BALLOUR (through translator): So, are hospitals with male managers able to get you the medicine?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes. Women should stay home, not work. A woman belongs at home with her husband and children. It’s the
man’s role to provide for the family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Please allow me to interrupt. So, now me, as a doctor, has my work been bad in the presence of a female
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No, but…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Great.
Hospitals don’t rely on one person. It’s teamwork. I will tell you one thing. We as doctors here, we found that, with Dr. Amani, the
administration would be run well. We voted twice, and both times she won.
Should we then tell her to stay home? That doesn’t make sense at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): But she shouldn’t be a manager.
BALLOUR (through translator): No one can tell me not to work. No one tells me what to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: Did you find any of this pervading the filmmaking process, meaning you have camera people who are there? When they’re shooting, are
they thinking about her as the character, or are they starting to say, well, here’s this other guy, he’s pretty good too?
FAYYAD: Well, actually, this is one of the challenging in the films, because I want to focus on the female — work of the female in Syria.
I want to make a case also for the women in the war, not as a victim, but also as a active, doing something, change something, as a heroine subject.
The cinematographer was — all the time advised me, like, to go to film with a male, and their camera all the time moving from the female to the
male. And then, when I see the footage, I surprise. I say, like, I want to follow the specific subject, because it’s not going to work.
I want this — if you can’t do it, just tell me I can’t do it, see?
But, for them, it was like — tell me like, no, it’s easier. We can have access. We can go there. And we can walk out with him. And we can do
SREENIVASAN: So, you kept telling them no, no, no, I don’t want more shots of this guy, I need more of her, she’s the character?
FAYYAD: Exactly. Exactly. Yes.
And I told them, don’t do anything. Just sit down and let the camera observe it. You will get powerful, great footage. Don’t do anything. So
you don’t need like to move around. You just like fit the camera on her, on her face, and move like a little bit away, and you can capture a lot of
And this footage start to come out. And then themselves start to change, start to see her powerful, and start to…
SREENIVASAN: The cinematographers?
FAYYAD: Yes, start to recognize that she’s a powerful person in front of them. She’s great. And she is doing, that they never notice it before.
They start to notice it through the camera, but also what the camera did, actually, it built the respect around Dr. Amani. The society around her
start to focus on her and see her like something important.
SREENIVASAN: Partly because the camera was there.
FAYYAD: Because the camera on there.
That — what the power of the change that the cinema can do in the right moment. And then I start to see there’s no better than this story to tell,
because herself, Dr. Amani, moving, she’s a political figure.
Everything, what she do, every single movement, it’s the story. And they need the people to think, because this film is a culture film. If we put
the camera inside the hospital, the documentation of the war — the Russian warplane bombing the hospital, it’s enough to make a powerful story.
But, alongside, there is a deeper, deeper level. It’s about the change in political and social level, that the society need to see it as a mirror in
front of them.
SREENIVASAN: There is a clip that we’re going to play of her just dealing with some of the smallest victims and the patients that come in here.
She talks to a young woman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE CAVE”)
BALLOUR (through translator): Why are you crying? Are you afraid?
You’re hypersensitive like me. Are you afraid? You’re hypersensitive like me. I cry easily.
What is that on your hand?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Henna.
BALLOUR (through translator): Can I put it on like you? Your hands are more beautiful than mine. Just cover your ears. I do that when the bombs
are falling and I’m scared.
What’s your father’s job?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He’s not here anymore.
BALLOUR (through translator): Where is he?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He died.
BALLOUR (through translator): How did he die?
Was he killed by a bomb?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): By a car bomb.
BALLOUR (through translator): Was it a long time ago?
Do you love your dad?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yes.
BALLOUR (through translator): Were you sad when he died? He’s in a better place now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: There’s a scene right after that where she even has this conversation with a young girl about, what’s important to you? What could
you — I mean, it — I don’t know if the girl is going to remember that conversation later in her life, but it might have been the first time she
ever had a conversation that saw the possibility of becoming a doctor or a teacher as an outlet for her.
FAYYAD: This girl doesn’t have the — never opportunities to speak about her dream and about herself.
When she felt somebody talking to her, she — relief. She felt that she have the first opportunities to talk.
SREENIVASAN: Let’s talk a little bit about this hospital. I mean, we see — we see a surgeon who’s operating without anesthesia.
And he plays music for people off of his cell phone to try to keep them calm. Describe the conditions that this hospital is operating under.
FAYYAD: This is a hospital that doesn’t have any kind of medicine.
They start to work on the medicine in their hand. And, sometimes, because the number of the people that are coming that are victims coming to the
hospital, injuries, they’re coming to the hospital, it’s higher than what they have.
SREENIVASAN: The capacity?
FAYYAD: The capacity that they have.
So they start to use different ways, like to make the patients feeling that they are more comfortable. Like, Dr. Salim, he tries to use different
methods. And he’s the person who loved to use the music. And the music was like make the people comfortable, actually.
Those people didn’t listen to music before, the victims. They are coming from this area. They don’t listen to the music. And the music — the
classic music something they didn’t experience. When they start to experience, they start to experience their body, touch their body.
This is what the change that make this.
SREENIVASAN: During the filming of this, we witness the repercussions of a chemical attack. And this is something that the Assad regime, the Russians
And yet here you are. Your cinematographers are documenting people who are coming in. There’s a moment where the nurse says: I don’t understand.
They all look healthy, but they’re dying.
And then it starts to dawn on people and everybody else, like, let’s put masks on, et cetera.
What was that process like?
FAYYAD: I can explain the chemical attack in this idea.
If you are in a small room, and I bring 20 gallons of chlorine, and throw it, the smell of — the chlorine smell, it’s five or six times from that.
They can make an attack that use, as Dr. Amani and Dr. Salim explain, because we don’t — we don’t know how — what the chemical attack is, what
the material is there.
She said, like, it’s the smell of the chlorine. But it is mixed with other chemical materials.
So one of the condition of Dr. Amani was, when we film, we should not stop her from doing what she do, but also we should not touch the victims,
because they don’t know what kind of the weapon used enough of the victims.
And we try from 20 hour of documentation for the chemical attacks, me and my two editors to find a way like to make the people watch it and see who
are the victim of the chemical attacks, what this means to using the chemical attack anywhere.
I’m trying to put the people also in the position to understand, if they are fathers, mothers, or brothers or a citizen for any country, to
understand what — how much this is dangerous. And we have the — all our — the responsibility about this.
And nobody react about this, unfortunately. We need a real reaction, because using the chemical attack, the big threat for our world, is
something cross the lines for any international law.
SREENIVASAN: “The New York Times” showed that there are still very specific bombings happening of hospitals, even though some of these hospitals were
on a list of places that the U.N. had put out, saying these are places not to be targeted.
They actually went down that list and targeted three or four hospitals at the same time.
FAYYAD: A lot of media being investigating this.
Me, my — with my team, we documented more than 500, around 1,000 hours of documentations of the — inside the hospital. Our camera never moved
outside of the hospitals. Seven hospitals been attacked intentionally.
We documented that the U.N. visited the hospital — the cave. And after visiting of the U.N., the number of the bomb increase on the hospitals.
This is so scary and put a lot of question about the responsibility of the humanitarians — humanitarian organization that visiting — visiting the
hospital and the responsibility to protect the hospital.
And this is a question, whether all of the U.N. now, what they have to do right now. And this is in front of them, in front of the world. My
country now, the hospital of my county, the lowly place for the help, for surviving, it’s being bombed every day.
And I have to tell everyone here, everyone listening and everyone seeing, this is — the death of every child, every person, every victim is the
responsibility of every single person in this world will hear this and watch this.
SREENIVASAN: You have been kidnapped twice by the Syrian government.
What happened to you?
FAYYAD: I was doing a documentary actually in the beginning of demonstration in Syria.
And I try, like, to make a film and put what’s the change that this demonstration of democracy can bring. And in the middle of the
documentation, I’m being kidnapped the first time and…
SREENIVASAN: So, not arrested, just taken?
FAYYAD: No, just taken. They take — they cannot be — they put my T- shirt on my face and take me. I didn’t know who had taken me until I arrive to underground jail, which — this is the underground jail.
This jail, it’s just for the intelligence services jail. In Syria, there’s more than 12 branch of intelligence services. The number of the
intelligence services branches more than the university and the schools in Syria, more than anything else.
So they take me. And they — when I — when they threw me in my cell, which is like small cell like in this chair, which it’s just a toilet, a
dirty toilet. And I have to sleep and stand there. And I have been torture every day. Every single day, they want to know why I’m filming
this, what I’m doing.
The filming is a crime for them.
SREENIVASAN: What was the torture?
FAYYAD: They was taking my nail. They was using the electricity on my sensitive part. They was hanging — like, hanging me, my hand in the roof.
I have to stand on my finger for 24 hours without any food. They take me outside of the jail, of the cell to the three doors. They have to beat us
and all — they beat us like until they go like to the toilet and back. And we see the bodies of the people that killed under torture.
This is the first time. The second time, they did the same things. The first time. Three months is the second time, five months — 15 months. I
have been jailed two time, 18 months, and just because I was doing a film in Syria.
SREENIVASAN: So how did you get out?
FAYYAD: The U.N. — they have some lawyers in the U.N. They have names of the journalists and filmmaker and artists being jailed in Syria.
And the number was very high. So they put my names and other, and they released us. And they kept following us, because they want to capture us
again. And this is the reason I left the country.
SREENIVASAN: So you’re now working on films still about and in Syria, but you can’t live there anymore. You can’t be there anymore because the
Syrian government wants you.
What happened to Dr. Amani, the central character in the movie? Where is she now?
FAYYAD: Dr. Amani now in Turkey. And she…
SREENIVASAN: Is she practicing as a doctor?
FAYYAD: She’s not allowed to practice doctor. She’s not allowed to work. She’s not allowed to do anything.
SREENIVASAN: Is she allowed to leave Turkey and…
FAYYAD: She allowed to leave Turkey, but she not allowed to do any — any job.
She just have to sit and as a refugee, isn’t able to do anything.
SREENIVASAN: Do you know what happened to the hospital that “The Cave” is centered around?
FAYYAD: It’s taken by Russians.
The area — all the area is being controlled by Russian — by Russian militaries now.
SREENIVASAN: Is it still functioning as a hospital?
FAYYAD: No, the hospital stopped functioning.
They captured one of our doctor that been filmed in the movie. We remove a lot of footage for him, because he’s safely. And he’s now in the Syrian
regime prison. And they tape two nurses, told them that what we did is fake news. There was — they make this — normally, the Syrian regime do
something called the fake news on from — start from the beginning of the revolution in Syria.
They capture the people who have different opinion from the government. And they put them in front of camera, force them to say something
different. And they did capture two of our nurses and told them, like, what we did, it’s fake news.
SREENIVASAN: There were people in the hospital while we’re watching all these bombings.
We’re happy that our central character is still alive, but there were, what, nurses killed, ambulance driver? Who were they?
FAYYAD: During the shooting of this movie, we have lost four medical worker, one ambulance driver, two nurses, and one of assistant of Dr.
Amani’s. He’s management — one of the management team.
SREENIVASAN: What do you hope people get from this?
FAYYAD: What they will see now, it’s still happening there.
And I hope they can write a letter for their representative here in U.S. and tell them, Syria need an action, direct action, to protect the
civilians, places to protect the civilians, and other things, to be this film a testimony of crime against humanity.
One day, when the criminals to not run from what they have done. This film will follow them forever, will keep a testimony on their crimes. And this
could use as a like a testimony on one of this court that could bring those criminal to the court.
This is what I wish. I’m not going to let those people who tortured the people and kill the people, that — to tell their lies.
We are telling the truth. And the truth will come out, because it’s obvious. But we need to put it in front of the people in the right way.
SREENIVASAN: The documentary is called “The Cave.”
Feras Fayyad, thanks so much.
FAYYAD: Thank you so much for having me here. Thank you for giving me the space to share this story.
AMANPOUR: And it is a sad irony today, as we discuss NATO and the threats from Russia, that that Syria war, which is now in its eighth year — eight-
year-long war — because of Russia’s help, Bashar Assad looks like he stays in control.
That’s it for our program tonight. Remember, you can follow me and the show on Twitter. Thanks for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS. Join us again tomorrow night.