MONTREAL, Canada — An effort by Canadian Turks to abolish curriculum on the Armenian genocide in Toronto schools has failed, with education officials telling Rudaw that the genocide will continue to be taught for years to come.
Canadian Turks earlier this year submitted over 2,200 signatures from an online petition calling for the Armenian genocide module to be removed from the Toronto District School Board’s educational curriculum.
The petition demanded that Canada’s largest school board remove any references to the Armenian genocide on the basis that it “unremittingly discredits one community’s narrative over the other” and “adversely affects the students with Turkish and Turkic heritages.”
The Armenian genocide has been taught since 2008 in a secondary school course called Genocide and Crimes again Humanity. The district told Rudaw that the class “is offered in some of our high schools where there is enough interest’’ and is “in line with not only the Canadian government but scholars who have looked into this specific issue.”
The Toronto District School Board “has no intention to have it removed in the years ahead,” a district spokesperson said.
Toronto is the largest and one of the most diverse school districts in Canada, serving approximately 232,000 students, including international students, in almost 600 schools.
The online petition was the latest attempt by Turkish Canadians to counter recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Turkey acknowledges that Armenians and other minorities were killed and deported during World War I but denies that they were genocidal acts. Twenty-one nations including Canada officially recognize the Armenian genocide, which is commemorated annually around the world on April 25.
Although the Canadian Parliament recognized the Armenian genocide in 2004, the recognition remains a major point of contention between Turks and Armenians in Canada. Upwards of 500 pro-Turkish protesters showed up at a rally to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottawa in April, with police setting up barricades to separate the groups who were taunting one another.
The Federation of Turkish Canadian Associations, which championed the online petition and tried to stop the Armenian genocide curriculum from being introduced in 2008, also in April lobbied against a monument recognizing the Armenian genocide in Toronto.
The petition garnered 2,255 signatures from around the world. The Federation of Turkish Canadian Associations reports that there are 50,000 Canadians of Turkish origin.
Robert Kouyoumdjian, head of the political chapter at the Armenian National Committee of Canada, lobbied for the Toronto district’s Armenian genocide curriculum. Frank Chalk, director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, endorsed it.
The online petition was launched by Turkish parents of students attending Toronto schools who stated in the petition that they were “deeply concerned about the negative impact of the current curriculum module on ‘Armenian Genocide,’” claiming it “would often result in ridiculing, intimidating, and bullying of our innocent children while causing injury to them physically and psychologically.”
However, Jim Karygiannis, a former MP based in Toronto, told Rudaw there is no evidence of Turkish children having been intimidated at schools. He said teaching high school students about the Armenian and other genocides could help prevent future atrocities.
Some scholars argue that if the killing of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 had been recognized and justice served, subsequent genocides may not have occurred. Adolf Hitler referenced the Armenian genocide as Nazi Germany killed six million Jews and other minorities during World War II.
Many human rights advocates maintain that that recognizing the Armenian genocide could pave the way for other atrocities, such as the 1988 chemical attack that killed 5,000 people in Halabja, to receive international recognition.
Karygiannis also warned that removing references to the Armenian genocide from textbooks could call into question curricula from other genocides, such as the Holocaust, the Ukrainian famine and genocide from 1932-1933, the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the 1980s Anfal genocidal campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“You can’t change history, and history should not be altered. We should learn from history and move forward so we don’t make the mistakes again,” Karygiannis said.
A Kurdish attorney based in Toronto, Hadyat Nazami, wrote a letter to Change.org officials, expressing serious concerns about the petition, which he deemed hate speech. In his letter, Nazami described the Turks’ petition as “essentially demanding that books and school curriculum be censored, in line with the one century old official ideology of the Turkish state to deny Armenian genocide ever took place in that country.”
Nazami’s vocal opposition has led to discussions among scholars and NGOs about adequate measures to protect freedom of speech while paying respect to the sufferings of survivors.