WORLD’s current issue includes an interview with Stephen Mansfield, author of many biographies and now writing a book on Kurdistan.
Tell us about the new book. I was pastor of a large church in Nashville, Tenn., when the Kurds began to pour into Nashville after the Gulf War. We taught them English and how to drive, get jobs, get driver’s licenses, and so on. They began to beg us to go back to Kurdistan and minister to their family members. So we formed an NGO [non-governmental organization] and I spent years and years going in and out through Turkey and through Syria into Kurdistan working with the Kurds. The progress they have made is amazing. What most Americans wanted to happen with the Gulf War is happening among the Kurds in northern Iraq.
I’ve heard about their hotels and stores, but what about schools? I was sitting in the religion minister’s office when the decision finally came down that no longer would the public schools of northern Iraq—now Kurdistan—be required to essentially be Muslim. They would teach all religions, and you would not have to pass a “Muslim test,” they called it. So you would be knowledgeable in all religions, but you could be anything. There is a Jewish woman in the government of Kurdistan, and Christians. You have a budding democracy in Kurdistan. When you combine that with the oil money they have, they are building a society which Forbes says is one of the top 15 vacation spots in the world.
No longer a no-fly zone. I almost got killed in the Kurdish city of Erbil. And nobody even knew who I was. I was just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Machine gun fire broke out in the streets—this is before. Last August I flew in on a great big 747. They’ve got this great big new airport in Erbil, and when you see the difference in a decade, you just weep. So keep your eye on the Kurds.