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To remember the Armenian Genocide, a poet reads 'After the Survivors Are Gone'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tomorrow is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, commemorating the lives of 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Past U.S. administrations had been reluctant to officially mark the day, concerned it might offend Turkey, an important strategic ally. But President Biden issued a statement last year acknowledging the genocide and saying, we do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.

Peter Balakian, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, comes from a family that fled the Armenian genocide. Some relatives were killed there. Here he reads this poem "After The Survivors Are Gone."

PETER BALAKIAN: (Reading) I tried to imagine the Vilna ghetto, to see a persimmon tree after the flash at Nagasaki. Because my own tree had been hacked, I tried to kiss the lips of Armenia. At the table and the altar, we said some words written ages ago. Have we settled for just the wine and bread, for candles lit and snuffed? Let us remember how the law has failed us. Let us remember the child, naked, waiting to be shot on a bright day with tulips blooming around the ditch. We shall not forget the earth, the artifact, the particular song, the dirt of an idiom - things that stick in the ear.

SIMON: Peter Balakian - his new poetry collection is called "No Sign."

(NATALIA LAFOURCADE FEAT. LOS MACORINOS' "GAVOTA (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.