But in Babayan’s new memoir she takes her story in her own hands.
In her new book, she reflects on escaping the ethnic killings of Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan, and moving to a new country.
“Liminal: a refugee memoir” had a private launch in November and is scheduled for a public launch in early February. Babayan said that the Armenian Museum of America has reached out to have the book included in its library.
Babayan and her parents, Martin and Tamara Babayan, spoke with the Times-News about the book and the experience of having their tragedy written about. Their comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
T-N: Your book is a reflection on your family escaping the ethnic killings of Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan. Was it difficult to revisit these memories?
Liyah Babayan: “Liminal” is based on my journal writings from the point I started to learn English in 1994. A reflection on the ethnic killings my family escaped, the loss of family members, life after genocide and our life as refugees resettled in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Genocide is extremely difficult to process emotionally and psychologically — most of the time it’s impossible (to process) as it was in my personal experience with much of the past missing or without closure. And on top of that, there was the pressure to assimilate in a new country.
My memoir captures my childhood, the years before and after the ethnic killings, all the way through my adolescence in the U.S. It took me 15 years to gather the courage, personal discipline, emotional strength, information, photographs and documents to fully process what I and my family survived. It meant reliving it all over again; daily avoiding the temptation to ignore the past.
In the most authentic way, I wanted to share the reality refugees experience when they arrive in a new country, the struggle to integrate and the compounding trauma they and their children experience.
T-N: How long have you been working on this book?
Liyah Babayan: I started to learn English with Mrs. Maughan and in 1994 at Harrison Elementary School with Miss. Gunter, but was not fully literate in English until after high school. Conversational English was easy, but writing and reading was extremely challenging and gave me severe anxiety. It took me 15 years to compile my journals and complete a manuscript because there was information I couldn’t process until I went back to Armenia in 2005. My family never talked about what happened, it was too traumatic for us to relive after we moved to the United States. I gave my grandparents my promise that I would write this book in honor of the loved ones we lost during the killings.
T-N: What went into writing this book?
Liyah Babayan: My years of struggling with PTSD, chronic depression and addiction went into this book. Tears, courage, gratitude and forgiveness went into this book. The human heart and mind can not process evil like genocide, especially when you are a child — it is not normal to witness violence on any scale.
T-N: How does it feel to have written this book, and to reflect on your experiences.
Liyah Babayan: It’s impossible to say you are happy to release a book about genocide. But, it gives a little bit of closure.
T-N: What were some of the surprises with writing this book?
Liyah Babayan: How difficult it is to express emotions and thought into English from other languages. How much I felt my grandparents presence throughout the editing process. The sense of duty, the responsibility to honor loved ones killed. How peaceful and light my heart felt after we submitted the final manuscript to Amazon for review. How little Americans knew about the difference between refugees and immigrants, their experience and the process they go through to come to America.
T-N: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Liyah Babayan: That no person is immured or loses their home, their identity or their country. My family never thought we would become refugees. We were living in a very civilized, modern and rich country. With the whole world watching in the 1990s, our politicians used language to spark crimes against humanity in a city of 2 million people.
There is a more compassionate response toward refugees that adoptive communities can put into practice. Refugees use to be the invisible people in our community. Four years ago, nine out of 10 people in Twin Falls didn’t know we even had a refugee relocation center. But in the last few years, Twin Falls has reformed its community sentiment towards proactively welcoming families through engaging churches, civic groups and business partners. Now it’s a community effort to welcome and help refugees navigate a new country.
I can only share my own experience and my family is just one family that came to America as refugees, but I hope to create better awareness about the largest invisible and voiceless population on earth. I hope to leave readers with a deeper understanding of the psychology of becoming a refugee and the mental health of children of war, refugees and veterans living with chronic PTSD.
Most of all, I feel fulfillment in gifting my children their history and legacy about their past and how Idaho became our family’s Ellis Island. We’ve planted our roots here. I end the book with this message that refugees are victors of our past.
Martin Babayan: This book is just our family’s experience and story. But every refugee has gone through a similar experience — being taken away from their home. They could all write books and be the voice of that experience.
What happened in Baku was horrendous. I saw a young man beaten to death with police and military just standing around not helping. I saw an older woman thrown into a trash compactor. It’s only by luck and the grace of God that we made it out.
Liyah Babayan: My dad never shared those stories with me. There are things that I still haven’t shared with my kids.
I promised my grandparents and parents that I would release a book. It also felt like some sort of justice for my aunt who was murdered.
T-N: Where can people find your book?
Liyah Babayan: “Liminal: a refugee memoir,” is available in print on Amazon and in selected bookstores throughout the U.S. starting in February and currently at Ooh La La! in Twin Falls. The official Twin Falls book launch is scheduled for Feb. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Twin Falls Arts Council Gallery Opening.
T-N: How does it feel to have your daughter release this book?
Tamara Babayan: We are proud of her.
T-N: Are there any final thoughts? Anything else you would like to add?
Martin Babayan: I hope that we get to a point in our world where no person experiences genocide and no book like this is written again.