- Armenian Literature, History, Religion




Raffi (pen-name; real name is Hakob Melik-Hakobyan, alternative spelling: Melik-Hakobian) — famous Armenian writer, author of historical novels, ethnographic essays and poems. Raffi was born in 1835 in Persia. Being a son of a merchant he was studying in gymnasium in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a while. He traveled a lot about Persia, Russia and Turkey.

His first poem was published in “Severnoye Siyanie” (editor S. Nazaryants) in 1860. This was the beginning of his literary career. At first he had limited finances and had to work at odd jobs, such as tutoring/teaching and clerking. In course of time he was a success and enjoyed wide popularity as a novelist by the end of seventies. It is worth mentioning that he became the first truly professional Armenian writer by earning his living from his writings.

Raffi’s poems are of less literary value than his ethnographic essays written in prose and depicting mainly Persian life such as “Harem”, “Haspushi”, “Bibi Sharbani”, “Journal of Khachagogh”. “Letters from Persia” (published in the “Mshak” newspaper, 1872). In some of his novels Raffi exposes the dark side of worldly life. These works include the “Golden Cock” (describes negative sides aspects of the merchant class), “The Doomed” (sharp attacks on obsolete traditions and superstitions), “Slaughter-House” (describes the shocking condition of a local town hospital) and others. The fame of Raffi is based on his tendentious novels and stories such as “Jelalleddin”, “Khent”, “Sparkles”, “Samuel”, “David-Bek” depicting the hardships the Armenian people faced. He gained insight into the baser side of mankind through real life experiences during his travels.

Patriotic motives became definitely apparent in Raffi’s novels by 1877, when a hope aroused among progressive Armenian people in Turkey that a war between Russia and Turkey would better the fate of Armenians living in Turkey or even liberate them from Muslim rule. Like another Armenian writer Patkanyan, Raffi depicts the brutality of Kurds and Turks: burning villages and towns, kidnapping women for their harems, bribes and extortion among officials, excessive taxation, jeering at the Christian religion. Sometimes he describes abjection and humiliation of his compatriots, who lost their energy and ability to struggle, and convicts traitorous Armenians fawning on Turkish authorities (E.g. Tomas-Effendi in “Khent”). More than once he portrays representatives of the younger generation as courageous and independent people full of sympathy for their nation and hatred towards its enemies, ready to work and struggle (E.g. Sargat in “Jelalleddin”, Vardan and Dudukchiyan in “Khent”, Aslan and Karo in “Sparkles”). Through his words the author conveys his cherished ideas and appeals to his nation with a plea for renewal. ”Samuel” and “David-Bek” are historical novels based on the research of original materials. Depicting the past of his native land, Raffi constantly bore in mind the situation of present-day Armenia, finding lessons in the national history for Armenians in Turkey at the end of the 19th century.

In 1881 Raffi traveled throughout historical places in Karabakh. As a result he wrote the invaluable book “The Princedoms of Khamsa” (available in Russian). Raffi himself wrote the following about this book: “This book is an apogee of my works, through it I revived long lost history, proved that Armenian princedoms had existed long before our age”.

The best works of Raffi are often weak in the aspect of art, but they show the author’s striking talent as a publicist. Raffi’s authority was very high. Even common people appreciated his works and grieved upon his death. Some modern writers such as V. Papazyan (the author of stories about Turkish-Armenian life) and poet Lerents owe much to Raffi. Raffi’s works are translated into many languages. His works are interesting for non-Armenians as an outstanding world view expression of progressive Armenian people of the 1870s/80s. The reader is referred to the following sources: Articles of E. S. Nekrasova “Armenian writer Raffi” (“God’s World”, 1892, Volume II) and U. Veselovskiy “Raffi, biographical essay”, Volume I of “Armenian Belletrists” collection (M., 1893; “Harem”, “The Doomed”, “Has-pushi”, “Jalalleddin” and including fragments from “Khent”, “Sparkles”, “Journals of Khachagogh”, “David-Bek” and “Samuel”). “Golden Cock” (“New View”, 1892), “Bibi Sharbani” (“God’s World”, 1892, Volume II), “Letters from Persia” (“Azovian Land”, 1892) are among other Raffi’s works translated into Russian by Veselovskiy.

Raffi died in Tiflis (now Tbilisi). Out of deep respect and admiration multitudes from all classes of society attended his funeral. He was buried in the Pantheon of Armenian Writers and Public Leaders (Hojivank District) where rest other luminaries among whom are: Hovhannes Tumanyan, Gabriel Sundukyan, Ghazaros Aghayan, Perch Proshyan, Muratsan, Tzerents, Jivany, Nar-Dos, Grigor Artsruny and others.


Preliminary translation from Russian by: Hasmik Baghdasaryan
Edited by: Ruth Bedevian

See also:

Poetry of Raffi
Raffi's biography in Armenian | in Russian in in Russian
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