Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Грибое́дов, Aleksándr Sergeyevich Griboyedov or Sergéevich Griboédov; 15 January 1795 – 11 February 1829), formerly romanized as Alexander Sergueevich Griboyedoff, was a Russian diplomat, playwright, poet, and composer. He is recognized as homo unius libri, a writer of one book, whose fame rests on the verse comedy Woe from Wit or The Woes of Wit. He was Russia's ambassador to Qajar Persia, where he and all the embassy staff were massacred by an angry mob as a result of the rampant anti-Russian sentiment that existed through Russia's imposing of the Treaty of Gulistan (1813) and Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828), which had forcefully ratified for Persia's ceding of its northern territories comprising Transcaucasia and parts of the North Caucasus. Griboyedov had played a pivotal role in the ratification of the latter treaty.
Portrait by Ivan Kramskoi
|Russian Ambassador to Iran|
1828 – 1829
|Monarch||Nicholas I of Russia|
|Born||Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov|
15 January 1795
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||11 February 1829 (aged 34)|
Tehran, Qajar Iran
|Resting place||Tiflis, Russian Empire (present-day Georgia)|
|Alma mater||Imperial Moscow University (1808)|
|Occupation||Diplomat, Playwright, Poet, and Composer|
Born in Moscow, Griboyedov studied at Moscow University from 1810 to 1812. He then obtained a commission in a hussar regiment, which he resigned in 1816. The next year, he entered the civil service. In 1818 he was appointed secretary of the Russian legation in Persia, and transferred to Georgia.
His verse comedy The Young Spouses (Russian: Молодые супруги, Molodye Suprugi), which he staged in St. Petersburg in 1816, was followed by other similar works. Neither these nor his essays and poetry would have been long remembered but for the success of his verse comedy Woe from Wit (Russian: Горе от ума, Gore ot Uma), a satire on Russian aristocratic society.
As a high official in the play puts it, this work is "a pasquinade on Moscow". The play depicts certain social and official stereotypes in the characters of Famusov, who hates reform; his secretary, Molchalin, who fawns over officials; and the aristocratic young liberal and Anglomaniac, Repetilov. By contrast the hero of the piece, Chatsky, an ironic satirist just returned from western Europe, exposes and ridicules the weaknesses of the rest. His words echo the outcry of the young generation in the lead-up to the armed insurrection of 1825.
In Russia for the summer of 1823, Griboyedov completed the play and took it to St. Petersburg. It was rejected by the censors. Many copies were made and privately circulated, but Griboyedov never saw it published. After his death the manuscript was jointly owned by his wife Nina Alexandrovna Griboyedova and his sister Maria Sergeyevna Durnovo (Griboyedova). The first edition was not published until 1833, four years after his death. Only once did he see it on the stage, when it was performed by the officers of the garrison at Yerevan. Soured by disappointment, he returned to Georgia. During the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828, he put his linguistic expertise at the service of general Ivan Paskevich, a relative; after which he was sent to St. Petersburg where he worked on the Treaty of Turkmenchay negotiations. There, thinking to devote himself to literature, he started work on a romantic drama, A Georgian Night (Russian: Грузинская ночь, Gruzinskaya noch), based on Georgian legends.
Several months after his wedding to Nino, 16-year-old daughter of his friend Prince Chavchavadze, Griboyedov was suddenly sent to Persia as Minister Plenipotentiary. In the aftermath of the war and the humiliating Treaty of Turkmenchay, there was strong anti-Russian sentiment in Persia. Soon after Griboyedov's arrival in Tehran, a mob stormed the Russian embassy.
The incident began when an Armenian eunuch escaped from the harem of the Persian shah, and at the same time two enslaved Armenian women escaped from the harem of the Shah's son-in-law. All three sought refuge at the Russian legation. As agreed in the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Georgians and Armenians living in Persia at that time were permitted to return to Georgia and Eastern Armenia. However, the Shah demanded that Griboyedov return the three escapees. Griboyedov refused. His decision caused an uproar throughout the city and several thousand Persians encircled the Russian compound demanding their release.
When Griboyedov decided to return the escaped eunuch and two Armenian women, it was too late. Soon after, urged on by the mullahs, the mob stormed the building. A high-ranking Muslim scholar with the title of Mojtahed, Mirza Masih Astarabadi known as Mirza Masih Mojtahed, issued a fatwa saying that freeing Muslim women from the claws of unbelievers is allowed.
Griboyedov and other members of his mission had prepared for a siege and sealed all the windows and doors. Armed and in full uniform, they were resolved to defend to the last drop of blood. Although small in number, the Cossack detachment assigned to protect the legation held off the mob for over an hour until finally being driven back to Griboyedov's office. There, Griboyedov and the Cossacks resisted until the mob broke through the roof of the building, and then through the ceiling, to slaughter them. The escaped eunuch and Griboyedov, who fought with his sword, were among the first to be shot to death; the fate of the two Armenian women remains unknown. Second secretary of the mission Karl Adelung and, in particular, a young doctor whose name is not known, fought hard, but soon the scene was one of butchered, decapitated corpses.
Griboyedov's body, thrown from a window, was decapitated by a kebab vendor who displayed the head on his stall. The mob dragged the uniformed corpse through the city's streets and bazaars, to cries of celebration. It was eventually abandoned on a garbage heap after three days of ill-treatment by the mob, such that in the end it could be identified only by a duelling injury to a finger. The following June, Griboyedov's friend Alexander Pushkin, travelling through the southern Caucasus, encountered some men from Tehran leading an oxcart. The men told Pushkin they were conveying the ambassador's remains to Tiflis (now Tbilisi). Griboyedov was buried there, in the monastery of St. David (Mtatsminda Pantheon).
When Nino, Griboyedov's widow, received news of his death she gave premature birth to a child who died a few hours later. Nino lived another thirty years, rejecting all suitors and winning universal admiration for her fidelity to her husband's memory.
In a move to compensate Russia for the attack and the death of its ambassador, the Shah sent his grandson Khosrow Mirza to St. Petersburg to avoid another war with Tsar Nicholas I. and also gifted to him the Shah Diamond.
Russian sources claim that British agents, who feared Russian influence in Tehran, and Persian reactionaries, who were not satisfied with the Turkmenchay treaty, were responsible for inciting the mob. The death of Griboedov, who was a liberal and who advocated regional autonomy for the Christians in Transcaucasia, was probably not a great loss for Tsar Nicholas or General Paskevich, both of whom wished to Russianize the minorities in the Caucasus. The Russo-Turkish War (1828–29) might have been another reason for the Russian inaction. His wife had written on his tombstone in Tiflis: “Your mind and works are immortal in Russian memory, but why has my love outlived you?”.
Author Angela Brintlinger has said that "not only did Griboyedov's contemporaries conceive of his life as the life of a literary hero—ultimately writing a number of narratives featuring him as an essential character—but indeed Griboedov saw himself as a hero and his life as a narrative. Although there is not a literary artifact to prove this, by examining Griboedov's letters and dispatches, one is able to build a historical narrative that fits the literary and behavioural paradigms of his time and that reads like a real adventure novel set in the wild, wild East."
One of the main settings for Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel The Master and Margarita is named after Griboyedov, as is the Griboyedov Canal in Central Saint Petersburg. One of the central streets of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is named after Griboyedov. This street is crossed by Alexander Chavchavadze street, named after Griboyedov's father-in-law, famous Georgian poet, Alexander Chavchavadze.
On 17 April 1944 Pravda ran a lengthy feature on the commemoration of Griboyedov's 150th birthday when high-ranking officials, military leaders, diplomats, writers, and artists had attended a celebration in the Bolshoi Theatre. Novelist and Stalin deputy Leonid Leonov eulogized Griboyedov, mentioning especially his love of his fatherland.