Recently, I was approached by the awesome team of Silah Report (@Silah_Report) to comment on the weapon markings and engravings of Middle-Eastern, North African and Central-Asian small-arms. Honored as I was, I immediately started looking around and a whole new world of weapon markings opened up! I started a thread on this subject on my Twitter, but I’ll reproduce the content of this thread here on my website.
But first of all, what are weapon markings? What’s their main function? Well, markings provide the weapon‘s serial number, country of origin and country of last import. This can provide basic information on the weapon, and its history, which facilitates tracing it. In armed conflicts, such weapons can most of the time be traced back to a certain point, which is in most cases a legal obligation by international law. Besides the legal markings on a weapon, soldiers, insurgents or any random user could have left his own engravings on the arm. His name, a superstitious talisman or a symbol that represents his function are some recurring examples. In this post, I’ll explore a non-exhaustive list of small-arms symbols and engravings from the above-mentioned region.
The Afghan Martini rifle
These are the markings on an early Afghan Martini rifle. Just before the turn of the 20th century, Emir ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khān (r. 1880-1901) had the Kabul Arsenal built, an industrial factory that was the result of his attempts at industrializing the country after the Great Game. The Kabul Arsenal mostly made small-arms, most notably a locally produced version of the British Martini-Henry rifles and carbines. The inscription was written in a very stylized mix of foliate Kufic and Khorasan Kufic and reads: “Kār Khāneh Kābul“, Dari for “Kabul Factory”.
The year mentioned is 1315 AH, which equals 1897 AD. Above it, an image of a mosque with a minbar, or pulpit, within and flanked by two minarets. Attached to the mosque are two flags. This was the earliest national emblem of Afghanistan and was featured on the state’s flag.
From 1909 onward, the emblem is changed to a mosque within an octagram, the state’s emblem under Ḥabībullāh Khān, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s son. The inscription remains the same. The year mentioned is 1328 AH, or 1910 AD.
The Iraqi Tabūk Marksman Rifle
The Tabūk Marksman Rifle is a local Iraqi modified version of the Zastava M70, itself a variant of the AKM. Manufactured at the al-Qādisiyya Establishments north of Baghdad from 1978 onward, purchasing under Ṣaddām Ḥusayn’s tenure the needed machinery from Yugoslavia. The war between Iraq and Iran started in 1980, so a locally manufactured small-arm was needed, the Tabūk proving to be a lethal performer in an urban battlefield environment. The emblem on the rifle represents the Lion of Babylon, a statue in the ancient city of Babylon.
As seen on my piece on the Lion of Babylon, this Mesopotamian lion standing above a human became a national symbol for Iraq, being featured on stamps, coins, banknotes and the name for the locally manufactured T-72 battle tank. The text next to it reads: “Cal. 7.62 x 39 mm”.
The Syrian M48BO Mauser
After an extensive search, I deciphered the thuluth calligraphy flanking the crest of the Syrian Republic (1946–1963) on this rifle. I’ve yet to find this on any English-speaking forum, so a rather exclusive piece of information. This is a Yugoslavian M48BO Mauser contracted by Syria. The BO in M48BO stands for “Bez Oznaki“, or without marking. For some states, Yugoslavia exported unmarked models of their M48, subsequently marked by the importer himself. This rifle had a Syrian crest added in Damascus, with “al-Dark al-Sūrī” added, “the Syrian Gendarmerie.”
Other markings on other weapons include the Syrian Republic crest with “al-Shurṭa” written under it, “the police” or “al-Jaysh al-Sūrī“, “the Syrian Army” (as on the 9 mm in the above image). You can recognize the Syrian Republic’s crest by the hawk and its three stars, as opposed to the Baʿth’s two stars. For more information on the hawk featured in the Syrian national crest, I invite you to read my piece on that subject.
The Persian Mauser Model 98
A Persian Mauser Model 98 infantry rifle manufactured by Zbrojovka BRNO, a maker of small arms, light artillery, and motor vehicles in Brno, Czechoslovakia. It features the Pahlavi shir-o-khorshid, the Lion and Sun so commonly used in Persia since the Safavid dynasty. For more information on that symbol, you can read my piece on the subject.
The inscription on the left side of the receiver reads: “Tofang-e boland namūne 1317 kār khāne silāḥ sāzī BRNO“, or “Rifle model 1317 weapons factory BRNO.” 1317 is the Iranian calendar year equal to 1938 AD.
The Iranian RPG-7
The Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Iran produces an indigenous copy of the RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher. Several improved, distinctive warheads were developed to go along with the launcher, like the Nāder, Nāfedh (HEAT) and Ṣāʿiqa (HE/frag) missiles. The emblem seen on the left side of the trigger group pistol grip is the national Iranian emblem post-1979, representing the word “Allāh” and officially approved by Khomeinī in May 1980. The Revolution banned the Lion and Sun symbol as seen on pre-1979 weapons.
The emblem of Iran is special. It represents both the word for God, “Allāh” as the Islamic shahāda, “Lā illāh illā Allāh” (there is no deity but God) by combining four crescents and a sword into the shape of a flower. The five parts of the emblem symbolize the Pillars of Islam. It was designed by Ḥamīd Nadīmī.
The Egyptian 8 mm FN-49
An 8 mm FN 49 semi-automatic rifle bearing the Kingdom of Egypt‘s mark as it was between 1953-1958, an eagle with a crescent and three stars on its chest. Interestingly enough, most rifles bear the original crown crest as they were ordered in 1948 and delivered by June 10 1949.
Around 1955, however, Egypt purchased from FN 1500 spare receivers. This was after the overthrowing of king Fārūq, so the crown wasn’t used anymore and instead the receivers were marked with the above Eagle of Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn. You can read more about the eagle in my read on the subject. The inscription below the crest is in the exact same thuluth calligraphical style as the Syrian M48 mentioned above, though this one reads: “al-Jaysh al-Miṣrī“, or the Egyptian Army.
An executioner’s gun?
A mysteriously interesting Remington rolling block rifle without any national or military contract markings. However, two engravings really stand out. The first one is a name and a year in Arabic: N. ʿAlī Zakariyyā – 1316 AH (1898 AD). The rifle looks worn and has been repaired several times. The wrist is repaired with rawhide and there’s a bullet embedded in the right side of the butt-stock.
Very large quantities of these Remington rolling blocks were imported by Ismā‘īl Bāshā of Egypt (r. 1863 – 1879), popularly used during his conquest of Southern Sudan. As mentioned by John P. Dunn in his Khedive Ismail’s Army (2005), a total of 200.000 rolling blocks were stored in Egyptian arsenals. Considering the use by first-line infantry and attrition of defect rifles, he estimates a total of 250.000 rifles and carbines sent by Remington to Egypt in the period between 1869 and 1880.
The second engraving on the rifle, however, is really interesting. It looks like a stylized bird, but it’s possibly much more sinister. This rare symbol could represent gallows, which would make this rifle an executioner’s weapon. The icon isn’t common, but has been found on other weapons.
Although the rifle could’ve originally belonged to Egyptian troops in Sudan, it could’ve ended up into the hands of Mahdist fighters. Indeed, the date on the rifle (1898 AD) is the same year as the famous Battle of Omdurman. Besides, the city of Omdurman has been described by escaped prisoners as having several rows of gallows in front of the marketplace. At the time, Rudolph Slatin, a prisoner who escaped the Mahdist regime in 1895, wrote an eyewitness account about the execution of members of the Batakin tribe, who had refused to carry out the caliph’s orders.
This is a German executioner sword that was probably made in the 17th century. You can see the same gallows appear on the sword. A Swiss executioner sword, the Richtshwerts I, has been observed to bear the very same marking. So if this was an internationally known symbol to mark the weapon of an executioner, the rifle must’ve witnessed some serious killings.
A sawn-off Turkish Mauser Model 1890
The amazing @ArmoryBazaar uploaded this sawn-off bolt-action rifle, originally a Turkish Mauser Model 1890. Note that the Ottoman Arabic inscription reads: “Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf“, and the numerals refer to the year 1309 AH (or 1891 AD). Notice the two small hexagrams (Seals of Solomon). For more information on the Seal of Solomon, I invite you to read my piece I wrote on that symbol.
The Iraqi M48BO Mauser
One of the rarest Mauser rifles you’ll find is the M48BO with the official Kingdom of Iraq‘s crest marked on the receiver. Like I said earlier, The BO in M48BO stands for “Bez Oznaki”, or without marking. For some states, Yugoslavia exported unmarked models of their M48. The importing states then marked the rifles themselves, in this case the Hashemite Kingdom or Iraq, which independently existed between 1932 and 1958. The crest can be recognized by a crown and a sash draped over a Mesopotamian lion and an Arabian horse.
The Israeli Kar98k rifle
An Israeli Kar98k rifle. Ironically enough, German Kar98k’s (7.92x57mm) were very popular among Jewish militias in Palestine, most notably the Haganah. Through the so-called Operation Balak, many rifles were smuggled into Palestine through Czechoslovakia during and after WWII. When Israel became independent and the Haganah became the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces), the latter decided to adopt the Belgian FN FAL 7.62mm NATO as its main battle rifle. All the leftover Kar98k’s were reworked and re-barreled to use the 7.62mm NATO, and stamped with the IDF’s logo as marking, which is a Star of David with an olive branch inside of it, and below written in Hebrew: “The Army of Defense for Israel”.
The Egyptian RPD light machine gun
The RPD is a 7.62mm light machine gun developed in the USSR by Vasily Degtyaryov. It was a precursor of most squad automatic weapons. The Type 62 RPD was locally manufactured in Egypt since the days of the UAR, a product of the intense military industrialization in the country. Import markings are therefore absent. A peculiar symbol, however, represents the factory’s proof mark or, to be more exact, the logo of the Egyptian Ministry for Military Production, which oversees the 15 factories of the domestic ammunition and armaments sector.
The Egyptian Ministry of Military Production is responsible for managing the military factories in Egypt. The initiative was established after the defeat at the hands of Israel and the lack of professional weaponry during the July 23 Revolution. The new Pan-Arab socialist government understood the need to manufacture arms, machinery and electronics domestically. This was especially true following the signing of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty (1979), after which Egypt had its membership to the Arab Organization for Industrialization suspended and a policy of economic isolation implemented against it.
For more images of small-arms markers, please visit this thread on my Twitter.
Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he’s working with both refugees from the region as well as foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He wrote columns on Islam in Europe and migration, and started MENA Symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.