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
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
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.