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I was delighted to receive the urgent request of the publishers, asking me to write an introduction to the English version of the “Khent” (The Fool) of Raffi, translated by Jane S. Wingate. This request I accepted with pleasure. For the translation into English of a choice number of masterpieces of Armenian
literature, ancient and modern, has been one of my fondest dreams. I believe that we, the Armenians of America. Owe a great debt of gratitude to this glorious country, the United States of America, under whose protective wings we have been enjoying peace, prosperity, happiness and unlimited opportunities for growth in culture, material wealth and creativeness. In fact, we are all refugees of political persecution. We have found here a haven of safety after having been tortured mentally, morally and, at almost regular intervals, physically, at the hands of our merciless rulers in Turkey. And some of us owe our very existence to the generous philanthropy of the American people who have come to our aid and snatched from the claws of death our half dead and buried bodies from the burning sands of the Arabian desert, where our age-long persecutors, the inexorable Turkish authorities had driven us during the dark days of the First World War with the flimsy excuse that we were in sympathy with the Allied cause. We enjoy now in America, “The Land of Liberty and The Home of the Brave,” a cultural democracy, the likc of which is not found anywhere in the world on such a vast scale. To this cultural heritage every race has contributed something worthwhile from its precious spiritual resources. This fact explains why America is blessed more than any other country
with an incomparably rich culture and a way of life which is a shining example of unity wrought in a framework of diversity and heterogeneity. This wonderful national unity and like-mindedness is not brought about by extraneous pressures but by a subtle spiritual force, embodied in friendliness, brotherhood, cooperation, sharing and a free and unhampered interaction of mind upon mind, of culture upon culture in the pursuit of a better, nobler, richer way of life.
I am convinced that we, the Americans of Armenian origin, have made some to this contemporary life of the United States. I am sure, however, that we can make and we ought to make still greater contributions. It is well known that as an ancient people with an excellent culture, the Armenians have a rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. In their literary possessions they have many hidden treasures which have not been tapped adequately. These
must be brought to light. Great scholars of Europe and Armenia, such as Hubschmann, Meillet, Keltzer, Marr, and Atontz and a host of others have attempted in the past to unearth some of the precious spiritual possessions of our ancestors. But this has been only a beginning. It behooves us, the intellectual leaders of America, to cultivate thc field further and deeper. Do many people know that numerous Hellenistic, philosophical, literary and religious works of great merit from the third, fourth, and fifth centuries exist in the Armenian language? And that they have been preserved for
world-civilization in their Armenian versions, the original Greek copies having perished in the cataclysmic events of the past ages? Who does not remember, as a student of history, the name of Eusebuis of Caesarea whose “Chronicles” were
retranslated from the ancient Armenian into latin, thc original manuscript having been lost? Again, it was in the Armenian language that the major part of the writings of Philo of Judea were preserved. This famous professor of the
University of Alexandria was well known for his great contributions in effecting the fusion of the Christian, Greek and Hebraic cultures during the first century of the Christian era. And the works of last but not least among the cluster of great writers, the Stoic philosopher Zeno of the third century, was also kept from oblivion and obliteration thanks to the fact that it was translated into the ancient Armenian language during the Golden Age of Armenian literature. Besides these great masterpieces of the ancient Hellenic world, we can be proud of the works of our own Armenian historians of the Middle Ages and also of the subsequent periods, whose chronicles and histories, if hrought to light, can shed new light upon the mysteries and problems surrounding the relationships of crusaders and the Eastern despots, and especially upon the history of the Middle East and the Near East. These works are chiefly buried in the Armenian language, and thus are not accessible to American and European scholars. What about the many important liturgical, medical, mathematical, and particulary exquisite poetic works of the Armenian authors, of ancient and modern times, which are hidden behind the curtain of language inaccessibility? Will it not be a great contribution to the civilization of the world in general and more particularly to the culture of the English speaking people of our adopted and beloved country if the best of these precious pieces of work could be rendered into English and brought to light thereby? Now you understand why I greet with particular enthusiasm this noble labor of love, of Mrs. Wingate. Who has rendered into English, “Khent” (The Fool) one of the chief works of Raffi, the great novelist of Armenia, who was really the founder of the Armenian historical novel, and the novel of realistic portrayal of the life of a people, whose country, like ancient Gaul, was divided into three parts; one part suffering under the yoke of Turkey, the second part dragging its existence under the heels of the Czars of Russia, and the third part withering away under the oppressive rule of the Shahs of Persia. The author of “Khent” whose real name wae Hagop Hagopian, is well known by his pseudonym, Raffi. He was an
Armenian hailing from that part of Armenia which was under the Mohammedan rule of the Shah of Persia. He made his debut as a writer in Tiflis, away from his native land, joining the literary school of “Mishag”, which was an Armenian
journal founded by Krikor Arzrouni in l872. This publication under the wise leadership of its founder and editor, played a very striking role in kindling sparks of enlightenment and causing the awakening of the Armenian people. from the deep lethargy in which the vast majority of the Armenians slumbered for centuries after they lost their political independence in 1393 A.D.
The editor of “Mishag” saw in the work of this bright young man the possibilities of a great writer and he encouraged him in his first faltering attempts at writing. Raffi, on his part, scrupulously attended the literary soirees given by the editor of “Mishag”, and gradually attained refinement in his crude Iiterary endeavors. He published in “Mishag” several short stories based upon his observation of the Armenians in Persia, Russia and the Caucasus. These were fine beginnings. Gradually his observations became keener, his literary style became more fluent, colorful. attractive and of fine quality, and his insight into the complicated mysteries of the life of the Armenian peasant especially became deeper, and his forecasts for the future became more prophetic. In alI his works he protested against injustices, great or small, he exposed human foibles, individual or collective, and scathingly assailed tyrannies, and fiendish atrocities, perpetrated by the Persians, Kurds and Turks. As a teacher in different localities, at different times, he had opportunities to study the life of the Armenians, and their educational
conditions. Without reserve, he ridiculed the tradition bound teachers in the imaginary person of Der Totig, and he censured the frivolities and laziness of the Armenian students attending the Russian Universities. On the other hand, he
had words of commendation for the purposefulness and seriousness of the famous group of Armenian students of Germany. Some of these students became the champions of the movement for reawakening Armenian culture in Russia
and thc Caucasus. Raffi himself was the protege of one of these products of German education, Krikor Arzrouni, the editor of “Mishag”.
Having been steeped in the ideals of this intellectual nobility Raffi himself used the novels as an instrument of propogating these ideals of intellectual and political regeneration, and whipped public opinion into more promising and
creative forms. The novel for Raffi was not merely a literary genre the purpose of which was entertainment, but it was the most effective means of gaining the attention and inteeest of a vast multitude of readers imbuing them with his cherished ideals and dreams of a perfect society. “The Fool” is one of these novels in which the author has a thesis to expound and a sermon to preach. The theme of the story is taken from the bloody events which followed as the aftermath of the war of 1877 between Turkey and Russia. Raffi in his travels had witnessed the deplorable conditions to which the Armenian people were subjected. These were chiefly peace loving peasants whose sole purpose in life was to till the soil and to produce good harvests in peaceful enjoyment of their quiet and serene life. He had witnessed how these industrious and extremely docile villagers were oppressed and subjected to all kinds of inequities on the part of the Turkish officials. He had observed with indignation how these innocent people were menaced continuously by the rapes, plunder and criminal attacks of the hordes of Kurdish bands, whose blood thirsty instincts were sharpened to a keener edge by the heatted pressures brought upon them by the officials of the Sultans of Constantinople. ln spite of the fact that their living conditions were unbearable, the Armenian peasants did not utter a word in protest, having been trained in docility by the clergy for centuries with the Biblical exhortation: “If they smite thee on the one cheek, turn the other also to them.” Raffi having seen the Armenian refugees who had escaped certain death at the hands of their pursuing enemies, the
Turkish soldiers, in the province of Alashgerd during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, set his imagination into motion and gave us a novel of great merit, weaving a succession of captivating episodes, gruesome events, and portraying the fascinating pictures of the Armenian peasant, first in the enjoyment of his life in the confines of his serene home and then his wanderings away from his home, tortured in the clutches of famine, pestilence and unscrupulous people. This is a captivating story, which was read avidly by people of his time and which is read with the same consuming interest at the present moment bv people who are remote in time and space from thc scenes of events depicted in this novel. Raffi has one obsession, which comes to the surface, time and time again, namely, he finds himself unable to comprehend how human beings can be so peace loving, so docile and servile that they will not dare lift a finger in protest against the perpetrator of atrocities which transcend human imagination by their extreme brutality. Referring to the scene of slaughter at Bayazid, Raffi puts in the mouth of the imaginary hero, Vartan, these words: “Look, look! In all the city you do not find a man who raises his hand against his slayer. What more can be done to a man to move him to passionate resistance? They have burned his house before his eyes; they have roasted his children; they have dragged away his wife and daughters; the man has seen all this yet he humbly bows his head to receive the stroke of the sword!” —Again, Vartan makes this trenchant remark: “this people do not know how to die with honor.”
The thesis of Raffi is that his people should be taught to defend their honor, their wealth and their lives, he longs to restore in the hearts of the docile Armenian peasants the heroic spirit of the Armenian national hero, Vartan, who won for the Armeniand in the fifth century A.D. freedom of conscience by fighting with his small band of heros against the multitudinous hordes of the Persian Zoroastrian fanatics. Leaving to the reader the unique enjoyment of reading the fascinating and intriguing events related in the novel, let us
turn now to a brief analysis of the artistic texture and structure of the novel. Raffi was a writer endowed with a vivid imagination, keen observation and unbounded idealism. His novel is a mixture embodying all these qualities. He is almost incomparable in the portrayal of types and delineation of characters. Some of his depicted personages are real and charming, such as old man Khacho, the head of the village who represents the practical wisdom, the admirable industry, the harmonious and virtuous life prevailing in the peasant home. Khacho’s household is a beautiful picture, inspiring at times, artistically portrayed by this great novelist, who excelled in the art of
depicting domestic scenes. One loves to look at this painting of the simple life of the Armenian peasant with its serenity, quietude, its industry, its harmony and cooperative spirit. Another real character is Thomas Effendi, an Armenian who is employed by the Turkish authorities as the tax collector of the district. In him you will find everything that is corrupt, everything that is base, ignoble and unlovely. Der Marook, the village priest, in whom one sees the decadence of the splendid spirit of devotion and self-abnegation of the Armenian clergy of the bygone ages. In passing, I must point out that Raffi betrays, throughout the novel, a little exaggerated anti-clerical spirit, so prevalent in his time, and perhaps justified. In this novel one finds oneself face to face, in the panorama of kaleidoscopic events, with the picture of the cruel and wily Kurdish chieftain, the rapacious and salacious Fattah Bey. In contrast with these, one also comes across the portraits of some unreal characters, the heroes of the story, created by the fertile imagination of the author. Vartan is the chief hero, who is in love with the comely daughter of this good man Khacho yet he is more in love with his ideal, namely an intense yearning to save his people from the shackles of slavery, ignorance, and turpitude. We meet other secondary heroes also, the inexperienced Tiutiukjian. the apostle of new ideas and ideals, and Melik-Mansoor, the astute and capable agent of this new imaginary state of affairs, which is beautifully depicted in the final chapter of the book, the dream of Vartan. The epitome of the entire philosophy of the author is condensed in this dream which Vartan sees at the tomb of his fiancee. He dreams that the peasant has been emancipated from the chains of tyranny. Everyone enjoys genuine freedom from fear and poverty. He dreams that the ideal of the inalienable rights of the individual for the pursuit of happiness has been realized and people live at last in peace side by side. The excellent qualities of the novelist lie chiefly in his superior style of writing, which is lucid as the limpid waters of a mountain spring, colored with fascinating metaphors; a style pulsating with life, imagination, poetic rhythm, vividness, and warmth. If R. Apovian was the founder of the novel for the Eastern Armenians, with pioneering efforts, and crudities of his newly introduced (vulgar) vernacular language, Raffi was the founder of the Armenian novel, with a perfection of style, with an intriguing structure. We must not forget that everything is not perfect in Raffi’s works. He is weak at times, especially in the denouement of events and development of his characters. His delineation of characters and types is fascinating yet some are unnatural and artificial. However it may be, all his novels, and we have a host of them, are extremely interesting and captivating. They are readable and they have powerfully influenced all Armenians of succeeding generations, not only the common people but also intellectuals and writers as well. The translation of the “Khent” (The Fool) by Mrs. Wingate, is therefore an effort worthy of our wholehearted commendation and applause. We are confident that not only Armenians of American origin, but Americans of diverse origins will appreciate this novel, and all the novels of Raffi, one of which “Samuel” was recently translated serially in an Armenian American publication. Mrs. Jane S. Wingate is the daughter of Reverend John F. Smith, a missionary under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who was located at Marsovan (Merzifoun), Turkey. Knowing Armenian from childhood she attended the Girl’s Boarding School established there by the Mission. After her graduation she came to the United States for further study and was graduated from Monticello College at Alton, Illinois in 1885. After a year or two of teaching in Wisconsin she was invited to return to Turkey to teach in her former school at Marsovan. Six Years later she rnarried the Reverend Henry Knowles Wingate and went with him to Caesarea, Turkey, to build up a boys, school in that city, which later moved to a nearby suburb, Talas. While living in a Turkish speaking community, she felt the need of preserving and improving her knowledge of Armenian and so she devoted herself to the study of Armenian literature, ancient and modern, and commenced translating folklore which she sent to the Folklore Society of England, of which she had become a member. Several of these translations were published in their magazine “Folklore” in 1911 and 1912. In 1930 they published her translation of the Scroll of Cyprian (Gibrianos). This scroll is in the possession of The Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Because of her interest in Armenian literature she was shown many honors by the Armenian clergy of the region. Before leaving Turkey in 1917, she had translated a portion of the Armenian Church Liturgy and Raffi’s “The Fool”. Some learned scholars from whom she received aid were Minas Tcheraz, Frederic Macler and Basmadjian; and in later years Rev. Manoug Norhadian; last but not least, Dr. K. H. Mallarian of Fargo, North Dakota, without whose assistance the translation of the twelfth century prayer poem “Jesus Son” written by Nerses Shnorhali would never have been completed. This was published by the Delphic Press several years ago. More recently the women’s division of the Armenian General Benevolent Union published in pamphlet form, the translation of H. Toumanian’s epic poem “David of Sassoun.” A more ambitious undertaking has been the translation of the saga of the entire race of Sassoun heroes, now ready for publication. From time to time a number of translations appeared in the Mirror-Spectator but the greater number remain unpublished. In the same category is the translation of Basmadjian’s “Coins of Armenia,” lent by the Numismatic Society of New York City, in which all designs and legends in the brochure have been copied. Mrs. Wingate resides in New York City. We take this opportunity to extend the heartfelt gratitude of the Armenian people to Mrs. Wingate for devoting her life to this noble task, to bring to light some of the priceless jewels of Armenian literature by translating them into English for the benefit of a vastly greater reading public, for the connoisseurs of art in the English speaking world, who, I am confident, will deeply appreciate her fine translation of this thought-provoking novel by Raffi.
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