Analysing the Online Arms Trade in Opposition-controlled Syria: September 2021 update

Jack Shanley & Mick F.

The conflict in Syria fuels a diverse trade in arms and munitions. Many transactions are performed online, providing an opportunity for remote analysis. This article is the eighth in a series of monthly updates to ARES Research Note 11: Analysing the Online Arms Trade in Opposition-controlled Syria. Readers should refer to that report for further information on methodology and context. These short updates will present ongoing analysis of the online arms market in opposition-controlled North and North-western Syria, focusing on the previous month (in this case, September 2021). After data has been collected for the whole of 2021, a full report will be released.

Key findings

  • September 2021 saw a decrease in sales from August 2021, featuring the third-lowest number of sales documented by ARES during this period of analysis;
  • The total number of documented  lethal-purpose self-loading pistol sales decreased by nearly 50% from the previous month; and 
  • There was a slight increase in the number of documented light weapon sales.

Describing the Dataset

Item by Class

In September 2021, 244 sales of small arms, munitions, and blank-firing pistols were recorded by ARES. This represents a decrease in sales from August 2021 (285),  and is the third-lowest number of offers documented within a month since ARES began this period of analysis in December 2020. Indeed, only July 2021 (132) and February 2021 (235) have featured fewer sales. In September 2021, four light weapons—two HAR-66 recoilless weapons, an RPG-22 weapon, and an RPG-75 recoilless weapon—were documented for sale. 

Figure 1.1 Items contained in the September dataset by ARCS Class (source: ARES).

Small Arms by Type and Sub-type

The majority of documented lethal-purpose small arms trades related to rifles (68%), a slight increase from the August 2021 update (61%). Due to this month’s decrease in total sales, September 2021 saw 22 fewer rifle sales than August 2021. Self-loading pistols were the second-most-common type of lethal-purpose small arm documented, constituting 27% of documented sales. This represents a 4% decrease in the proportion of self-loading pistol sales as a share of lethal-purpose small arms from August 2021. ARES also documented the sale of three sub-machine guns, two handheld machine guns, two shotguns, and two revolvers in September 2021. 

Figure 1.2 Small arms contained in the September dataset by ARCS Type/Sub-type (source: ARES).

Small Arms by Country of Origin

It was possible to identify the national origin of 172 of the 244 items documented this month. Of the documented small arms and blank-firing pistol sales, items of Turkish origin were the most common (accounting for 23% of the total). The majority of the offers of Turkish origin were for blank-firing pistols. One vendor offered 30 Turkish blank-firing pistols in a single sale. Sales of Soviet/Russian (13%) and Chinese (12%) origin were the next most prevalent, followed by Czech (7%) and Spanish (5%) offers. Weapons could be identified from 16 different countries.

Self-loading Rifles by Family

Of the 105 documented self-loading rifles offered for sale in September, all could be identified by family or model. All but 14 of the 105 documented self-loading rifles were AK-family weapons. These included 26 AKM-typerifles (AKM and AKMS models),  23 Type 56-series rifles (Type 56, Type 56-1, and Type 56-2 models), 8 Type 3 AK-series rifles (Type 3 AK and Type 3 AKS models), 6 PM md. 63 rifles, five M70-series rifles (M70AB1, M70AB2, M70B3 models), four AMD-65-series rifles, three AK-74-series rifles, three MPi-KmS-series rifles (MPi-KmS and MPi-KmS-72 models), two AKS-series rifles, two AK-103-2 rifles, two AK-63F rifles, one AKKS, one Kbk AKS rifle, one SAR-308 rifle,  one VEPR rifle, and three PSL precision self-loading rifles. Three of the documented AK-family weapons were chambered for the 5.45 × 39 mm cartridge. In addition to the AK-family of weapons, 9 Sa vz. 58-series rifles (Sa vz. 58 and Sa vz. 58 V models), three AR-typerifles, one Chinese CQ-series rifle, and one Fabrique Nationale CAL ‘para’ rifle were documented.

Self-loading Pistols by Model

Of the 44 documented self-loading pistols offered for sale in September, all but two could be identified by model. The PM-pattern ‘Makarov’ (seven examples), TT-pattern ‘Tokarev’ (seven examples), and Star B-series (four examples; two B and two BM models) were the most common among the dataset. 

Of the 42 documented blank-firing pistols offered for sale in September, all could be identified by model. The vast majority were Lord T822 models (34 examples), almost all of  which originated from a single sale (30 examples). The Aksa Arms AK14 (two examples) and the Retay G17 (two examples) were the next most common. ARES documented a substantial increase in blank-firing pistols sales from August 2021 (24 examples).

Individual Sales of Interest

Turkish SAR-308

Figure 2.1 Turkish SAR-308 made by Sarsılmaz Arms for sale in North-western Syria in mid-September 2021 (Source: ARES CONMAT).

The SAR-308 is an unlicensed copy of the AKM made in Turkey by Sarsılmaz Arms. The furniture appears to be inspired by Magpul’s AK furniture range. Most likely introduced in late 2017 or early 2018, the SAR-308 is now in use with Turkish security forces. The weapon has also appeared in the hands of fighters of the National Liberation Front near Aleppo, a coalition consisting of primarily Free Syrian Army (FSA)-aligned groups backed by Turkey.

Shortened Bullpup AKM

Figure 2.2 An AKM rifle which has been shortened and converted to bullpup for sale in North-western Syria in late-September 2021 (Source: ARES CONMAT).

In ARES Research Note 11, ARES documented AKM rifles which had been converted into bullpup rifles, and AKM rifles which have been converted to resemble AKS-74U rifles. However, this is the first documented example of an AKM which has been converted both to bullpup and to loosely resemble an AKS-74U. The craftsmanship of the conversion is of comparatively high quality, which is unusual for locally produced bullpup rifle conversions. This may be a ‘status weapon’, given that the finish on the rifle is extremely uncommon among firearms used in armed conflict in Syria.

7.62 × 39 mm Blank Cartridges 

Figure 2.3 A box of 7.62 × 39 mm blank cartridges which may be of Russian origin for sale in North-western Syria in late-September 2021 (Source: ARES CONMAT).

Although previous reports have documented large sales of blank ammunition, most such documented ammunition is designed for use in purpose-built blank-firing weapons. This box of blank-firing ammunition is intended to be used in lethal-purpose rifles (although not generating a lethal effect). While the box appears to be unmarked, the physical characteristics of the cartridges, including the crimp geometry and sealant colour, is consistent with cartridges produced by Tula in Russia. These rounds are sometimes used in Syria to provide a propelling charge for craft-produced cup-type grenade launchers, which have been documented in the region. 


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Remember, all arms and munitions are dangerous. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded, and all munitions as if they are live, until you have personally confirmed otherwise. If you do not have specialist knowledge, never assume that arms or munitions are safe to handle until they have been inspected by a subject matter specialist. You should not approach, handle, move, operate, or modify arms and munitions unless explicitly trained to do so. If you encounter any unexploded ordnance (UXO) or explosive remnants of war (ERW), always remember the ‘ARMS’ acronym:

AVOID the area
RECORD all relevant information
MARK the area from a safe distance to warn others
SEEK assistance from the relevant authorities