Liyah Babayan wrote the book on surviving and thriving as a refugee. Literally. Her memoir is called “Liminal, a refugee memoir.”
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Babayan survived the 1990 pogrom and genocide against Christian Armenians, eventually finding refuge with her family in Twin Falls when she was just 10 years old. Surviving religious persecution and ethnic killings, she watched her parents rebuild their entire life.
From a young age, she loved the hustle and free market spirit of the American Dream. She launched her business, Ooh La La Boutique, in 2007. The sustainable fashion and consignment boutique in downtown Twin Falls not only survived the recession but thrived, thanks to her tenacity and resourcefulness.
In 2016, she embarked on another business venture called Makepeace, a skin care and bath line produced entirely from potatoes. Focused on the challenge of personal hygiene that 70 million displaced people experience daily, Makepeace advocates for human dignity with each bar of soap. The organic, Idaho- centric products generate a matching donation to children or adults living in a refugee camp.
Her civic involvement is extensive. She served as a trustee on the Twin Falls School Board and Parks and Recreation Commission for seven years, organized the state’s very first Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and chairs the Idaho Chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America. She’s volunteered for The Salvation Army for more than 20 years, and nows serves on its advisory board.
And yet, writing “Liminal, a refugee memoir” in English as a third language was a challenge and 18 years in the making, Babayan recalls. Published in 2018, the book documents her childhood perspective of war and genocide, and of living the refugee experience, during her most formative years.
While her unique background, voice and perspective have led to many awards — the Idaho Hometown Hero Award in 2018, the ACLU Idaho Civil Rights Service Award in 2017 and the Idaho Business Review Women of the Year Award in 2015 to name a few — her life is a story of transcendence, not just of achievement, according to Ann Flannery, a post-secondary transition specialist at the College of Southern Idaho.
In August 2019, Babayan was invited to Washington, D.C., to present her book and share her personal testimony with members of Congress. She also testified on a House resolution recognizing the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey in the early 1900s as a genocide.
Babayan was recently invited to speak at the International Peace Convention in the Netherlands in the spring of 2020.
“For me, social justice is a spiritual practice, not a political one,” Babayan said. “Idaho is my home base, displaced humanity is my life calling, and compassion is my passport to the world.”