Armorers are like the traveling salesmen in video games who sell rare and magical items. At least that’s how I feel whenever I approach one and ask him to perform a miracle on a weapon. They usually perform said miracle. Most of them learned their trade from their fathers or by spending countless hours tinkering as a child. Family trades are a big deal for traditional Kurds.

What makes a Peshmerga armorer unique among the armorers of the world is their ability to fabricate, adapt, and basically turn a bunch of spare parts into something usable. Usually an older gentleman (like the one pictured above), the armorer knows more about firearms mechanics than you ever will because while you were downloading gun schematics, he was building weapons for guerrillas in the mountains. I have come to have a great deal of respect for these men and their skills, as do the Peshmerga who rely on them. The DSHK sniper rifle was a product of men like this, and those rifles are now widely employed among both Peshmerga and YPG/YPJ fighters as one of the most effective anti-personnel devices in Kurdistan.

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A heavy weapons mount in progress.

These guys actually go into battle alongside their units; they don’t just sit in the rear. The unit armorer can be found at the front, standing ready to fix any weapon that might suffer from a catastrophic malfunction or repair a simple component if required. What’s more is they will fight alongside the ground troops at a moment’s notice. Although it’s not their primary objective, they will get down and drop dudes as needed.

Our unit armorer is the kindest man in the world to boot; it’s impossible to visit him without being gifted more cigarettes and chai than a person could consume in a week. He always invites us in to share our favorite vices and converse for an hour or so about the state of things regarding the war and problems in the country. We also frequently discuss future projects he has in store. Depending on whether we have an interpreter that day or not dictates the depth of these conversations, though.

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More often than not, weapons components have to be fabricated due to the lack of funding available to the Peshmerga, and quite frankly, availability in general. You’d be surprised what you can do with a few scraps of steel and some ingenuity. Of course, this all requires tools of a proper caliber, and those the armorers do possess. Without the equipment, none of this would be possible.

An armorer grinds down a component to the required specifications
An armorer grinds down a component to the required specifications.

These are the men making a huge difference in the fight against the Islamic State. Without their years of experience and the application of their skills, the Peshmerga war machine would have fallen apart a long time ago. With the lack of weapons in Kurdistan and very few new ones making their way across the border, armorers have been instrumental in keeping the old ones running.

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