“One good book can save a whole nation.”
Who he was
Perhaps no literary figure had as great an impact on the mentality of the Armenian people as Raffi, or Hakob Melik Hakobyan. His novels and novellas told the story of the Armenian people in vivid detail and exposed the hypocrisies and weaknesses of the people and their leaders. Raffi’s work can be credited with initiating what would later come to be known as the Zartonk, or Awakening, during which Armenians, through a vibrant intellectual discourse, reasoned toward the necessity of a free Armenian state.
Raffi was born in Payajuk, a village of Salmast in the Persian Empire. His father sent him to Tiflis (modern-day Tbilisi) to continue his education. There, he became a protege of Grigor Artsruni, a leading intellectual at the time and the publisher of the periodical Mshak. Raffi would become a regular contributor to the paper and would establish himself as a writer through the short stories he published there.
When his father’s business was at risk of failing, he took it over and tried to save it, but failed. Without another source of income, he depended on his writing. He wrote prolifically and although he was never able to earn much, it kept him and his family out of poverty.
Desperate to reach a wide audience of Armenians to awaken their senses to the injustices they suffered, Raffi believed that the best medium would be through the writing of stories and, in particular, novels. His books, “The Fool,” “Sparks” and “Jalaleddin,” among others, were popular, but did not have the effect he intended during his lifetime. Nevertheless, they would become an inspiration to future writers and revolutionaries of the Armenian Cause who espoused the principles of independence and self-reliance, which would eventually lead to the creation of an Armenian state.
He is buried in Tbilisi at the Armenian Pantheon.
Raffi visited Arakelots Monastery to pay his respects to the great medieval historian, Movses Khorenatsi. While there, he shared his liberal views on education, among other issues, with the clergymen who, displeased, accosted him and nearly threw him into Lake Van.
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