Donald Abcarian, a graduate of U. C. Berkeley and a native of Fresno, recently translated Raffi’s The Fool. Abcarian opened the Armenian Studies Program’s Fall Lecture Series on Monday, September 10, with selected readings from his translation.
In 1835 Hagop Melik Hagopian was born in a village called Bayajuk, near Salmas, in northwest Iran. Though this name may seem unfamiliar, the person behind it is anything but. It was under the pen name Raffi, that Hagopian expressed himself poetically in an Eastern dialect of the Armenian language. With works such as Salpi, Jalaleddin, and Davit-Bek, Raffi kept Armenian literature alive. But, it was with his novel, The Fool (Khente), that he was able to capture an audience that never let go. Though Raffi died in 1888 in Tiflis, he is still considered one of the most well known writers of Armenian literature.
Written in 1878 and set during the last Russo-Turkish war, The Fool was a reflection of the times. The results of the war between Turkey and Russia are apparent in the book. As Raffi describes the unfriendly events and paints the bloody images, one can’t help but feel compassion for those who suffered.
A crowd of about 60 people, gathered in the Alice Peters Auditorium on campus, listened eagerly as Abcarian dedicated his readings to his father, Manouk Abcarian, who lived through the massacres that swept through Armenia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before he came to the United States in 1912.
Abcarian chose to translate The Fool because he had a “deep emotional need to solve the mystery of Raffi,” and he hoped his translation ” gave some glimmer on who Raffi was.”
Although he didn’t know how to read Armenian, Abcarian says he taught himself by reading Raffi’s literature. It also served Abcarian well to compare George Orwell’s, Animal Farm in English and in Armenian to gain a better perspective on the ways literature can be translated.
The Fool took Abcarian about 4 years to translate. Abcarian admits it was challenging at times, but says translating this novel was fun and exciting. When asked if he has plans to translate more of Raffi’s works, Abcarian light-heartedly replied, “I’m not ruling it out, but I only have so much eyesight.”
The Fool is available from the publisher, Gomidas Institute, at www.gomidas.org