Louise Brown

The Toronto Star
Ja n 7 2008
Ontario, Canada

1,200 people sign petition against class that labels 1915 mass killing
of Armenians as a genocide

An unusual new course about genocide to be offered in Toronto high
schools this fall has sparked anger among Turkish-Canadians for
including the Turkish killing of Armenians in 1915.

The Grade 11 history course, believed the only one of its kind at
a high school in Ontario and possibly Canada, is designed to teach
teenagers what happens when a government sets out to destroy people of
a particular nationality, race or religion, through three examples:
the Holocaust which exterminated 6 million Jews in World War II, the
Rwandan slaughter of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in
1994, and the Turkish killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians
between 1915 and 1923.

"These are very significant, horrible parts of history, and without
sounding hackneyed, we hope we can learn something from them so we
can make a better world for our children's children," said Trustee
Gerri Gershon, of the Toronto District School Board, who proposed the
course after a moving tour in 2005 of the Nazi death camps in Poland.

"This isn't a course to teach hatred or blame the perpetrators - no,
no, no," said Gershon. "Our goal is the exact opposite: To explore
how this happens so we can become better people and make sure it
never happens again."

But the Council of Turkish Canadians has gathered more than 1,200
signatures on an online petition opposed to the course for calling the
Armenian killings a "genocide" and inciting anti-Turkish sentiment. The
Turkish government has long denied the slaughter was a genocide,
but rather part of the wartime casualties of World War I, with both
sides guilty of some provocation.

"To pick Armenia as a genocide when it is so controversial - especially
when there are atrocities by other countries that could have been
chosen - is just wrong, and will inadvertently lead to the bullying of
Turkish-Canadian children," argues Ottawa engineer Lale Eskicioglu,
executive director of the council and author of the petition, which
she will present to school board staff at a meeting this month.

"Children of Turkish descent already face bullying, racism and hatred
in the school yards. We rely on our schools to provide a shelter free
from hate-inciting propaganda and not contribute to the divisions
between ethnic minorities," she says.

School board Superintendent Nadine Segal says teachers already are
being trained to handle these issues "with sensitivity to the cultural
mosaic in our schools," and insists the course is not designed to
"point fingers, but to examine the early warning signs of genocide
and the role of the perpetrator and bystander.

"Our own Canadian government has recognized the Armenian genocide as
uncontestable reality, the original genocide of the 20th century, and
the course has been approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education,"
says Segal.

"But students will also be doing independent studies of their own
choosing that will allow them to examine other examples of genocide.

The goal is to help students gain a deeper understanding of human
rights and their responsibilities as global citizens."

Kudos for the new course have been rolling in from historians and
human rights advocates, Segal adds, including former United Nations
special envoy Stephen Lewis, author Joy Kogawa and genocide historian
Frank Chalk, co-director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and
Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.

The course is being designed with the help of experts from UNICEF,
York University, the Canadian Centre for Genocide and Human Rights
Education, the University of Toronto and the Holocaust Centre of
Toronto. Schools from as far away as Montreal have asked for the
curriculum, says Segal.

Both Segal and Gershon cite the International Association of Genocide
Scholars' unanimous declaration of the Armenian killings as "genocide"
in 1997.

However, Eskicioglu calls the course "propaganda by the Armenian
diaspora" and notes that although Prime Minister Stephen Harper has
recognized the Armenian tragedy as genocide, his government also
supports Turkey's call for an "impartial" joint historical review of
events - a move Armenians refuse to take part in.

"We are asking either for the removal of the genocide course from
the curriculum," says the petition, "or removing any discussion of
the Ottoman-Armenian tragedy from its contents."

Gershon says she would oppose any such change.