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Conversion of Firearms in the Middle East

It is not very hard or uncommon to convert a replica firearm into one that actually possesses the capability to injure or kill. This worldwide phenomenon called firearms conversion has found demand in individuals who wish to use it for self-defense or for rogue clandestine terrorist factions in warring regions.

The Small Arms Survey (SAS) is a Swiss-based non-profit research organization that has conducted extensive research into illicit trade and production of small arms all across the world. They have defined firearms conversion as, “ Mechanically altering an accessible replica firearm to function in a similar way as a restricted firearm.” Essentially this means that the very nature of the replica has been changed in order to carry out the operation of a real firearm. So from a Nerf or an Airsoft gun to a homicidal contraption, firearm conversion is not to be joked about.

Typically, blank-firing guns, trauma guns, and airsoft guns are preferred for conversion. Blank firing firearms normally produce the sound of a real firearm but there is no projectile. It’s most often used as alarm guns or as a prop for movies. Globally, Turkey is one country that produces blank firing firearms at large scale. Atak Zoraki, Ekol/ Voltran, and Blow, and Target Technologies are the market leaders in its production. These firearms are then converted and sold to individuals or organized crime groups. The Ekol Tuna is the most widely proliferated weapon. What makes it particularly significant is the influence these firearms have on conflict-ridden zones across the middle east.

Over the past few years, Turkish made converted replicas have been seized in Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and even from Turkish citizens. Authorities have found that 16% of all seizures between 2010-12 are from their citizens.

Since the fall of Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator in 2011, the nation has fallen into a destructive civil war. The UN has placed a weapons embargo on Libya since then and yet the country has been on the list of Turkey’s top ten converted arms importers. Libya was even the second and the third-largest importer of Turkish made replicas in 2012 and 2013. These weapons have been found in large amounts in the Libyan black market and it has even been spotted in the hands of Al Qaeda and its smaller factions. Besides terror groups, converted replicas are also popular among Libyan women. They buy it for self-defense purposes in a country where violence is habitual.

Besides Libya, Sudan and Somalia also receive large amounts of Turkish made replica firearms.

The question arises, why buy converted firearms at all?

There are multiple reasons. The first one is the cost element. Even after being converted, a replica firearm costs much less compared to a real one. In the Libyan black market, a real gun will cost between USD 1,600–4,100 whereas a completed replica gun costs USD 125. Even in Turkey, a converted firearm costs about 10% of a real weapon. These weapons are also popular because they are often untraceable. Blank firing arms are not subjected to the same laws and regulations as real firearms. They don’t have to be marked or recorded, therefore they cannot be traced. So a weapon that is cost-effective, untraceable, and capable of inflicting real damage is bound to be favored by crime groups.

Converted firearms, particularly those from Turkey, have intensified hostilities in war zones because of their easy availability, low prices and inability to trace. Lack of regulations or even the lack of conformity in regulations has allowed a new lethal weapon to enter and worsen conditions in the middle east and north Africa. Regardless of the purpose of use, these weapons are an undiscovered or possibly overlooked branch of illicit arms trade and need to be accounted for.

By: Naomi Kurian

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