Lyon Karapityan: Lebanon’s Last Soviet

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Russian Communist supporters wave red Soviet flags as they march in the centre of Moscow during Victory Day, May 9, 2010. (photo: REUTERS - Vladimir Nikolsky)

By: Afif Diab

Published Monday, December 5, 2011

Despite exile, assassination attempts, the collapse of the soviet bloc, and the advancement of age, the faith of one man from Zahle in communism remains unshaken.

“Comrade Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s country will return more powerful than ever before to defy the American arrogance,” says Lyon George Karapityan (66), the last soviet in his humble home in one of the oldest Zahle neighborhoods, Mar Gerges, east of Beirut.

Karapityan has been a member of the Lebanese Communist Party all his life. His father, who left Turkey for Lebanon after the Armenian genocide at the beginning of the 20th century, was one of the founders of the party in the town of Rayak and would let his son accompany him on the condition that the young Karapityan read all the Soviet papers, magazines, and books he could lay his hands on.

Karapityan’s involvement with the party began when he started pulling around cart, distributing Soviet publications, newspapers and magazines brought from Syria, “as well as anything sent from Moscow, including the military magazine and the Soviet woman’s magazine.”

During the Lebanese civil war, he was forced to flee Zahle for Rayak because his well-known political beliefs made him a target of suspicion. There, in early 1976, he founded the military wing of the Lebanese Communist Party and trained young men from Hermel, Sannine, Arsal, al-Labwa, and Antoura.

He explains that he had to endure assassination attempts, and extreme pressure and mistreatment. He was “arrested more than once by security forces and militias” as a result of his political ideas.

Karapityan finally had to leave Lebanon for Armenia in 1986, where he says he finally understood the true value and spirit of the Soviet Union.

Throughout his entire life, Karapityan remained an avid reader. He continued to read Soviet publications and magazines, as well as political and philosophical works such as the writings of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Friedrich Engels, which he credits for illuminating his life. “When I read these writings, I became part of the great Soviet Bolshevik school that changed the world,” he declares.

But today he reads contemporary newspapers and magazines, which he collects in his home. Scientific books and publications are his favourites these days after tiring of political works.

Pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Che Guevara, Khalid Bakdash, Farajallah el-Helou, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Kamal Jumblatt adorn the walls of his house.

His visits to the Soviet Union before and after the fall gave him inspiration. “When I would visit the tomb of Lenin in Moscow I would return to Lebanon stronger,” he says. However, a visit to Armenia after the USSR’s collapse proved one too many.

“I was horrified to see so many people living in poverty,” he says, adding, “They were all upset by the fall of the Soviet Union but I assured them that the Union will return to correct all the wrongs of the world.”

However he could not continue living in the “weak Armenian state,” preferring to live in Lebanon instead, and transferring his personal library there along with secret documents and letters from his father’s time.

His principles are still as steadfast as ever. “I am completely secular. I hate men of religion who try to imprison people from the moment they are born,” he says. “Employers are the same. I left my job a few months ago because my employer was using me and ignoring my rights. Both these groups ruin the economy and destroy social justice.”

Karapityan laments the fall of the Soviet Union, “the ally of poor nations and enemy of American arrogance,” everyday. He lines up his model MIG planes against F16s in a way that suggests he thinks America will soon be overthrown.

Despite his advancing years, Karapityan keeps up contact with all his old comrades and remains available to anyone wishing to benefit and learn from his wide experience. “My health is great and I practice sports everyday,” he says.

His ultimate dream is to one day return to Moscow and see the red flags flying once more.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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