Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other
media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet
bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written
consent from Groong's Administrator.
© Copyright 2005 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.
Why we should read... `Jalaleddin' by Raffi (Collected Works, Volume 4, pp7-63, Yerevan, 1984) Armenian News Network / Groong August 10, 2005 By Eddie Arnavoudian Raffi's literary talent is evident in this his, very first short novel, an excellent English translation of which by Donald Abcarian will hopefully be available soon. In Jalaleddin Raffi already proves himself a master of the exciting adventure story that is at the same time a serious piece of political agitprop delivered to high intellectual and artistic standards. Full of dramatic action the work entertains and thrills but with the primary aim of educating its audience on the necessity and legitimacy of resistance to oppression, by any means necessary - as Malcolm X put it. Jalaleddin opens with shocking scenes of Kurdish clan leader Jalaleddin whipping up his men into a frenzied mob as he prepares for a campaign of pillage and plunder against local Armenian villages in the Ottoman occupied province of Albag. To his expedition Jalaleddin recruits not just military might but the authority and blessing of the religious establishment of which he is also the head. Here Raffi does not however tar all Kurds with one brush. Though at certain points open to misinterpretation, the novel is free of anti-Kurdish chauvinism. Indeed, throughout it, Kurds as a people are referred to in admiring terms. But Raffi does not conceal the fact that Jalaleddin and other Kurdish leaders acted as agents of Ottoman tyranny in Armenia. The population over which they exercised lawless authority are the Armenians, reduced to a passive, humble, pleading mass, inert, inactive and fearful of any independent initiative. Into this equation of ruthless oppression and meek resignation leaps the young rebel Sarhad and his band of twelve comrades, recalling Jesus and his twelve disciples, but for that Sarhad and his men are representatives of a new, secular and democratic principle of life. They have grasped that the oppressed must resist or die, fight or be slaughtered. They understand that begging and pleading cannot tame and calm the beast of oppression. They know that meek appeals are read as signs of helplessness and impotence and serve only to whet the monster's appetite. Against an Armenian Christian tradition of silent submission they are the self-conscious nucleus that by example and by education will help generate a new tradition of defiance. In formulating these principles Raffi transforms Sarhad and his companions into spokesmen for a radical popular movement. From the outset they are hostile to the Armenian elites and all they represent. Sarhad has bitter experience of their cowardice. When once urging them to emulate successful examples of armed Assyrian resistance to Jalaleddin, he is dismissed as a dangerous crank. The critique of the local dignitaries and the Church leadership acquires brilliantly articulated expression in stirring speeches by an ex-priest and an ex-teacher who in the name of a new spirit of freedom demand the casting away of the entire Christian tradition that instilled passivity and humility. No lone, isolated individuals, Sarhad and his comrades represent a new generation recruited from across the land and ready to lay down their lives for the freedom of the people. Raffi's thrilling adventure story is not impoverished of realism. As always Raffi shows a fine grasp of the social and economic relations of oppression and resistance. Around the simple story of a rebellious youth turned political bandit now in search of his abducted lover, he reconstructs Armenia's ravaged political and social landscape and indicates the obstacles to, and the requirements for, popular emancipation. Simultaneously he reveals himself a profound thinker and a social and political theorist of note. His argument for popular armed resistance is well constructed. Among many acute observations is one that perceptively defines political banditry as `a terrible, terrifying protest against a society that is not organised according to the rule of law.' Raffi also has a superb ability to communicate clearly and simply but at the same time with a contagious passion and enthusiasm. Posing issues of oppression with depth, with a sharp grasp of the common man and woman's hopes, their strengths and their weaknesses, his depiction of the oppressed Armenian people captures something of the experience of all the oppressed. Jalaleddin is a political novel that is written with artistic finesse. It has none of the bombastic rhetoric so common in Armenian historical novels. Sarhad as a patriotic protagonist is no abstract icon. Unlike cardboard caricatures, he becomes a nationalist and revolutionary not through some inner, divinely generated ideological wisdom but through personal experience. A recalcitrant boy by nature, his experience of life drives him to rebel against the humbling authority of his community. He is a real human being with his own private pains that he cannot readily forget, even in the midst of life and death battle against social injustice. But deeply anguished as he his by the abduction of his own beloved, he has the strength of character to remain conscious of the pain of his community and the abuse of all Armenian women. A full and proper artistic appreciation of this novel and of Raffi's fictional work as a whole is possible only if one avoids fruitless attempts to press his novels into ready-made and ill-fitting categories of European romantic or realist fiction. Raffi developed his own style of popular epic narrative that suited his particular ambition. He was an artist, but one who wrote with a message for the masses. He wrote for them, not for the light entertainment of the European educated Armenian elite. His chosen novelistic form therefore reflected this ambition. To secure success, to ensure he was understood, he employed a story-telling style developed from a popular tradition that was already in existence among the people. So Raffi adjusted the European novel form to this tradition. Readers will gain valuable insight into Raffi's novelistic technique from an excellent essay by novelist Terenig Temirjian on Khatchatour Abovian's combination of popular folklore, realist novel, song and poetry in his famous `The Wound of Armenia' (Terenig Temirjian, Collected Works Volume 8). -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.