In Syria Gun repair shops spring up in war-torn country

Abboud Jan, a repair shop owner, receives around 10 customers a day in his cramped city centre shop.

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Syrian Abboud Jan repairs a disassembled rifle in his firearm-repair workshop in northeastern Syria's Hasakeh city play

Syrian Abboud Jan repairs a disassembled rifle in his firearm-repair workshop in northeastern Syria's Hasakeh city

(AFP)
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For years, Abboud Jan's gun repair shop in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh catered exclusively to local hunters, but the country's devastating six-year war has changed all that.

"We used to repair just hunting weapons, but things have changed with the crisis," says the 36-year-old, standing under a sign in his shop promising "Repair of all weapons".

Jan has been in the business for 15 years. When he started out, he mostly fixed shotguns used to hunt waterfowl and other birds.

But since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, his skills have branched out to include weapons of war.

Now he works on everything from pistols to the widely used Russian DshK heavy machinegun nicknamed the "Dushka".

"Now we fix big pieces, in addition to the Dushka and the PKC machineguns, as well as light Russian weapons," he says.

His clientele has also changed. Many of his customers these days are either people who carry a firearm for protection, or fighters from local Kurdish or pro-regime militias.

Much of Hasakeh province and the regional capital are under the control of a Kurdish "autonomous administration," which runs separate schools and police units.

Other parts of Hasakeh city and the surrounding province remain under government control.

Jan receives around 10 customers a day in his cramped city centre shop, where empty tea cups sit atop soot-covered drawers filled with tools.

'Never expected' to carry arms

Freddy, a 31-year-old jeweller wearing a baseball cap, comes in holding a small pistol. Jan swiftly gets to work on it.

"Before the war I had a hunting rifle, and I used to come here for repairs now and again," Freddy tells AFP.

"But when the war started, I bought a pistol.

"I keep it with me all the time. We've seen several kidnappings during the war," he says, adding that his work as a jeweller makes him particularly vulnerable to crime.

The Russian DShK heavy machinegun -- known as the "Dushka" -- has become a frequently used weapon in Syria's civil war play

The Russian DShK heavy machinegun -- known as the "Dushka" -- has become a frequently used weapon in Syria's civil war

(AFP/File)

Jan charges between 1,000 and 5,000 Syrian pounds ($2-$10) for basic maintenance work on a pistol, with the price for work on larger pieces determined by their size and make.

Most of his work involves fixing weapons that have jammed because of heavy use without proper cleaning and care.

Local pro-regime militiaman Fayez, a 25-year-old dressed in military fatigues, comes to Jan with a malfunctioning Kalashnikov.

Jan examines the assault rifle's sights and then replaces a part. Within minutes he hands it back, fully working again.

"I never expected I'd be using weapons," says Fayez. "But today I take care of my weapons and maintain them on a regular basis."

Fixing firearms is the only line of work Jan has ever known, but he says he hopes his children will continue with their education and enter a profession unrelated to violence.

'First mistake is your last'

In another repair shop in the Kurdish-controlled Aziziyeh neighbourhood, 47-year-old Abu Mohammed replaces part of a pistol using rough, grease-stained hands.

He says he is unhappy about the turn his business has taken.

Like Jan, he mostly worked on hunting weapons before Syria's conflict began in 2011, and he too has since shifted to fixing battlefield arms.

"At the beginning, war prompted me to quit my job for a while. I didn't want to deal with combat weapons," he tells AFP.

But with no other work available, he felt forced to return to his sole source of income.

He now handles a wide range of arms, including pistols, rifles and machineguns. He says he avoids working with heavy weapons because of the dangers involved.

"Our profession requires a lot of concentration -- it's as though you're dealing with mines," he says. "The first mistake you make is your last."

Syrian Abboud Jan inspects an assault rifle in his firearm-repair workshop in Syria's Hasakeh city on March 18, 2017 play

Syrian Abboud Jan inspects an assault rifle in his firearm-repair workshop in Syria's Hasakeh city on March 18, 2017

(AFP)

The constant risk is one reason why Abu Mohammed hopes to find another job and stop repairing guns for good.

"Maintaining a hunting rifle that brings pleasure to its owner is far better than maintaining these death pieces," he says.

He says he never expected Syria to turn into a war zone, and struggles with the idea of fixing weapons to be used against fellow humans.

As if trying to convince himself, he adds: "All the guns and pistols that I repair are being used to defend the country, not to spread death within it."

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