Turkey admits selling “non-military” guns to Syria

I’ve been working lately with Tolga Tanış of Hurriyet, to document weapons reaching Syria through Turkey — and to back the Turkish government into admitting their tolerance of it.

Turkish officials had furiously denied allowing weapons into Syria. That is, until Tolga’s column forced them to backtrack. At this point the defence minister finally accepted that Turkey had exported “non-military weapons” to Syria.

Tolga’s article was based on Turkish customs records collected in Turkstat, and then incorporated into Comtrade, the UN’s global trade database. From June, Turkish customs started recording exports under international category 9303, which covers hunting and sporting guns. By September the total was 47 tonnes of weapons, costing $1 million:

Commodity Month Weight (kg) Value ($USD)
Other firearms, sporting, etc, signal pistols, etc June 2013 3,568 $91,811
Other firearms, sporting, etc, signal pistols, etc July 2013 4,430 $83,462
Other firearms, sporting, etc, signal pistols, etc August 2013 10,220 $271,018
Other firearms, sporting, etc, signal pistols, etc September 2013 28,805 $619,035
TOTAL 47023 1065326

This kind of data can be pretty flaky — items easily get miscategorised through bureaucratic mistakes, attempts to minimize taxes, or a thousand other reasons. But the Turkish government accepted the truth of the data, and merely quibbled that Tolga’s reporting on it was misleading:

Ungrooved hunting rifle suitable for use for sports purposes and blank firing guns are not war weapons as suggested by the said report. This commodity’s exportation to Syria is not held subject to any limitation in line with the current international rules and regulations.

It’s a slightly garbled statement — “ungrooved rifle” is a contradiction in terms, and Tolga’s article accurately described the nature of the weapons.
But let’s accept the gist — recreational guns aren’t designed for war, so it’s OK to send them into an embargoed warzone.

I don’t know any other country that makes such a distinction between ‘fun guns’ and ‘gun guns’. Turkey certainly didn’t in the past. They have proudly trumpeted seizures of weapons destined for Syria, many of which would be classified as recreational:

Officers found 120 air rifles, 50 blank firing guns, 60,000 fireworks,
14,300 shotgun shells, 4,500 blank firing guns bullets, 107 rifle binoculars and 280 kilograms of bird’s eye [Source]

Some 110 air guns, 51 shotguns, 86 rifle scopes, 86 rifle clips, 104
gun clips and 50,375 bullets were seized in five operations conducted in
the last week of January, Yazıcı told daily Hürriyet. [Source]

Besides which, you have to consider how creative — or desperate — the Syrian rebels have been in making use of ostensibly weak weapons. Brown Moses has an entire playlist dedicated to DIY grenade launchers, many of them made from sporting shotguns. The image on the right, from The Atlantic, shows one such converted shotgun, albeit from before these particular export records.

Finally, remember: this portion of the arms flow into Syria became public, more-or-less by accident. But 47 tonnes of small arms is, well, small, in comparison to the needs of a full-blown war. We only catch small glimpses of the overall traffic, and can easily get a skewed picture of what is going on. It’s great to have something on record, but what is unrecorded is far greater.

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