History course proposal upsets Canadian Turks

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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.

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