In this episode I speak with Liyah Babayan, author of ‘Liminal: A Refugee Memoir.'
In this discussion we delve into Liyah’s profound, disturbing, and moving retelling of her childhood experiences fleeing the pogroms enacted against the Armenian minority population in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the midst the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-1990, as expressed in her memoir 'Liminal.' After experiencing incomprehensible trauma and dehumanization, Liyah and her family fled to Armenia, where they were homeless for over three years. Liyah recalls the hostility and derision (with notable punctuations of deep generosity) her and her family experienced from her fellow citizens during this time, as is too often the case with displaced and traumatized refugee populations around the world, regardless of the context of the displacement for each respective group. After this period, Liyah's family was finally granted the refugee status required to make their way to the United States, ultimately resettling in Twin Falls, Idaho through the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Resettlement program. While Liyah and her family were fortunate enough to be able to escape the horrific violence in Baku and their desperate living situation thereafter, their difficult journey toward integration and healing was only just beginning.
In this interview, I quote segments of Liyah’s memoir and ask her to provide deeper insight into her process writing this book, including how the retelling of her experiences in this fashion has allowed her to further integrate and process her experiences as a refugee and her family's resettlement in the United States. This record of her experiences provides a means, for those that have been fortunate enough to never have experienced this side of the human condition, to: a) more fully empathize with the plight of refugees around the world, regardless of the context of their displacement; b) understand how trauma informs the development (emotional, mental, spiritual, and so on) of children and adults alike, and how that trauma is passed intergenerationally if it's not reckoned with and processed on the individual and community level; c) understand how the dominant cultural, political, and economic institutions lay the groundwork, regardless of the socioeconomic structure and nation they reside within, for these grand acts of barbarity to occur against vulnerable populations; d) learn to identify the forms of language used, and policies enacted by, the political class that pave the road for these violent dynamics to emerge in mass societies around the world (of particular relevance, in the United States presently), in order to counter these dehumanizing narratives and create spaces for inclusion, understanding, and healing; and e) provide the forms of support refugees need that run far deeper than just financial/economic support provided by refugee resettlement programs and the like, wherever they may be.
Liyah Babayan is a local entrepreneur, activist, Armenian refugee, and the owner of Ooh La La! consignment boutique in Twin Falls, Idaho. She is the author of the memoir ‘Liminal: A Refugee Memoir,’ released late 2018, and was presented to Chairman Adam Smith of the House Appropriations Committee by Senator James E. Risch, chair of U.S. Foreign Relations Committee.
- Purchase ‘Liminal: A Refugee Memoir’: http://bit.ly/babayan-liminal
- Learn more about Liyah and her work: https://www.facebook.com/liminalmemoir
- The songs featured in this episode are “Worn Out Shoes” and “Talking Is Hard” composed by Eli Stonemets.