Weapons still popular commodity for Syrians on Telegram
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
Some rooms of the Telegram Messenger have become a market for displaying various types of weapons, ammunition, and military uniforms, after their presence has receded from the past, and they have become part of specialized shops on the ground in northwestern Syria.
Through a post in different rooms and channels in the application that is widespread in the region, people show a picture of the type of weapon with information about its specifications and its price in US dollars, appending the post with promises of a price reduction.
The matter is not limited to the display of weapons, as the post in rooms open to comment and publication for anyone turns into questions and answers about weapons publicly in an open auction or ends with the phrase “Contact privately for serious people.”
Virtual social media represents an active market for the display and sale of weapons and everything related to military equipment, more than its activity on the ground, within the arms shops scattered in the region.
Of all kinds
In northwestern Syria, dozens of groups are active on social media, whether they are specialized in buying and selling goods or others, such as real estate, machinery, household appliances, clothes, and others.
These channels are filled with different names of medium and light weapons that are offered for sale at different prices. Some accounts are run by arms dealers who have found a way to make profits at low costs from displaying them on the Internet, while others offer weapons for sale or purchase for the first time.
Small arms, rifles, machine guns, old-fashioned firearms, handguns, grenades, mortars, light rocket launchers, mortar shells, and ammunition for most of these arms are for sale with a weapon or individually.
Enab Baladi contacted a number attached to one of the local arms dealers on Telegram, called Abu Khaled, who depends on arms trade as a source of income, pointing out that the profit margin is small because the price of weapons has become a popular commodity in northern Syria.
The merchant stated that he makes good profits if he buys a weapon that the owner wants to sell quickly or if there is a repairable malfunction, relying on the exchange difference of the Turkish lira against the US dollar, as weapons are sold in dollars, although the currency in trading is the Turkish lira.
Abu Khaled displays his products via Telegram, and after the initial agreement or comment on the post by anyone, the seller uses the same Telegram or WhatsApp to conduct price negotiations, then agree to deliver in a specific place, such as a street or in front of a store or at a well-known building in the area.
The matter is not limited to the arms trade, as many people ask through these groups about different types of weapons, ammunition, and military equipment with specific specifications. They are also answered with the same process of the merchant offering his goods and negotiations.
The merchant added that most of his customers are civilians and a small percentage are faction fighters, pointing out that the reason behind most of the purchases is for the purpose of protection and a lesser desire to hunt, while the fighters’ purchase of some weapons is for the purpose of selling them as well, as some people who do not have experience resort to fighters to buy weapons for them.
The dealer pointed out that some fighters have turned into merchants asking him to inform them of any good weapon “used but in good condition” and offer it to them, or specific ammunition at a low price less than what is offered in arms shops, in order to make profits for them.
The price of a 7mm caliber (Czech) pistol is $400, a 9mm caliber ranges from $400 to $500, a “long star” pistol costs $800, and a 14mm caliber starts from $1,500 to $5,000.
The prices of the Kalashnikov assault rifle range from $100 to $500, and it is the most prominent weapon that is offered for sale through social media, with a second type called “Akyat,” with prices starting from $800 to $1,500.
The price of the PKC machine gun, which is a medium weapon, ranges from $500 to $2,500, and the price of the launcher ranges from $100 to $400 for the Iraqi, Iranian, German, and Russian training types.
The activity of buying and selling weapons through social media does not negate the existence of shops designated for sale in northern Syria, as the shops are spread less than before, both in the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army (SNA) in the eastern and northern countryside of Aleppo, and in the areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib, but they operate according to terms and conditions.
The Syrian arms market is characterized by extreme diversity and has been shaped by the dynamic flow of weapons and ammunition over a century to Syria and the Middle East in general, according to a research report by ARES, a company specialized in intelligence consulting and armaments research services, entitled “Digital Bazaar: The Online Trade of Arms & Munitions in Opposition-controlled Syria,” published in July 2022.
Abu Khaled told Enab Baladi that selling through social media does not incur any costs, such as obtaining a license, paying shop rent, or other consequences, pointing out that work is based on supply and demand, considering that his work does not carry any risks.
The owner of a weapons store in the border Azaz city, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, told Enab Baladi that he has a license from the Military Police, stating that his shop is for “weapon repair,” pointing out that obtaining a license can be done in case the shop supplies a military faction with ammunition.
He added that a person cannot open a shop in a random manner without a license, as the Military Police of the Ministry of Defense in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) asks about the license, gives a warning to extract it, then closes it with red wax and confiscates the equipment in case the violation continues.
The owner of the shop stated that his work has changed from the previous one, and most of his sales have shifted from military weapons to sea and land hunting weapons, including a manual and automatic hunting rifle and a shotgun of Turkish, Russian, Italian and other models, as well as accessories such as binoculars, military uniforms, and helmets.
The man’s sale of military weapons was limited to very light types, such as rifles and pistols only, due to the widespread of problems and the state of security chaos in the region, indicating that he previously sold various types according to the country of origin, and he even used to sell anti-aircraft guns, according to what the merchant said, asking not to be named.
In the event that he sells types of military weapons, the Azaz merchant chooses the faction known in the area or the one that owns “guard points” near the contact lines on the fronts and does not deal or sell military weapons to members of factions that do not fight on the fronts, according to him.
The prices of hunting weapons are considered low compared to military weapons, starting from $25 to $1000, due to the instability of the Turkish currency, as the exchange rate of one dollar against the Turkish lira reached 19.72 TL, according to the Döviz website, which specializes in currency exchange rates.
In Idlib, where Tahrir al-Sham and its political umbrella, the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) control, the shops that sell weapons are not very active. At the city level, only one shop is active about 1.7 kilometers away from its center, near the Maarrat Misrin roundabout on the northern outskirts of Idlib.
The lack of shops is due to problems that took place years ago and were controlled by the General Security Apparatus, accompanied by decisions by the Salvation Government to prevent the opening of gun shops in city centers and even decisions to prevent those who carry weapons within the city or use them even at weddings, and the decisions are applied to a lesser extent in the countryside.
The most recent decision by the Salvation Government in this regard was in January 2021, and stipulated the closure of all weapons stores in Idlib and its countryside, the withdrawal of all licenses from the licensed stores, and the granting of a 15-day period to implement the decision, under penalty of liability for anyone who violates this.
At the time, the Salvation Government stated that the reason for the decision was the repeated bombing incidents in weapons stores, which caused civilian casualties.
The director of the Criminal Security Department in the Ministry of Interior of the Salvation Government, Captain Ibrahim Hussein al-Youssef, said that shops selling weapons need several procedures during the application for a license to practice the profession, and there are a number of conditions set by the ministry, including inspection of the shop in terms of location and its readiness so that it is outside the residential areas to maintain the security of the people.
Al-Youssef added in a statement to Enab Baladi that after matching the required conditions and papers, a license to practice the profession of selling weapons is granted to the applicant by the Criminal Security Department in the ministry, which authorizes him to buy and sell the military weapons mentioned in the license.
Shops are prohibited from selling any type of explosives, such as quartex (a mixture of highly flammable and solid explosives) or TNT (one of the most common types of explosives in the world).
Weapon chaos, No laws
The decline in the number of gun shops and sales activity via social media does not negate the chaos created by the proliferation of weapons in the region.
Any case of assault, clash, or fighting is accompanied by decisions to control weapons and confine them to the areas of military engagement, but it is still widespread.
Carrying arms has become a widespread phenomenon in northern Syria, especially in the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army (SNA) in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and the cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeastern Syria.
Any quarrel always turns into the immediate use of weapons, whether in the air to spread panic and fear or directly to cause injuries.
In April 2022, the Ministry of Defense of the Syrian Interim Government, the political umbrella of the SNA, issued a circular to control the carrying of weapons in its areas of control and to limit their presence to camps, front lines with the enemy, and security points and recommended the necessity of resorting to the judiciary to resolve any dispute.
In April of the same year, the Unified Command Room (Azm), which included several SNA factions before its dissolution, issued a circular banning the carrying of weapons inside the centers of cities and towns except under an official mission for the purpose of protecting markets and securing civilians.
Last April, one of the camps for the displaced in the town of Atmeh in the northern countryside of Idlib witnessed family disputes between displaced people from the Hama countryside, which led to the death of five people and the wounding of four, after the dispute turned from a fight with sticks to gunfire.
Last March, one of the parents and other people, including members of the SNA, assaulted the staff of the Abdullah Rajab secondary school in the city of al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo, under the threat of weapons, in a case that was repeated in the schools of the Aleppo countryside in general, amid calls to control the use of weapons, but to no avail.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Azaz, Dayan Junpaz, contributed to this report.
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