Tragedy ! Kalashnikov [ AK-47 ] Assault Rifle Designer Dies at 94



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Mikhail
Kalashnikov, the designer of the simple but sturdy Russian assault rifle that
has killed more people than any other weapon in the world, died on Monday
(December 23) in the town of Izhevsk.

He was 94.

A son of
Siberian peasants who never finished school, Kalashnikov invented one of the
Soviet Union’s best-known and most imitated products – a gun whose shots have
been heard around the world for over half a century.


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Kalashnikov
was in his 20s and not long out of World War Two when he created the AK-47,
whose number stands for the year 1947. The ‘A’ is for ‘avtomat’ – sub-machine
gun – and the ‘K’ for Kalashnikov.
The
rifle, which rarely jams even in adverse conditions, went into service in the
Soviet armed forces in 1949. Today, Kalashnikov rifles are still a mainstay of
Russia’s armed forces and police.
Russia
now produces Kalashnikovs of the so-called “100s series” with the
AK-47’s original 7.62 mm calibre, with the 5.45 mm calibre adopted for the
AK-74 and even for NATO’s 5.56 mm cartridge.
At a
lavish Kremlin ceremony on Kalashnikov’s 90th birthday in 2009, President
Dmitry Medvedev bestowed upon him the highest state honour — the Hero of
Russia gold star medal — and lauded him for creating “the national brand
every Russian is proud of”.
But
Kalashnikov said pride in his iconic invention was mixed with the pain of
seeing it used by criminals and child soldiers.
The cheap
and simple rifle was embraced by anti-Western revolutionary movements and
leftist leaders around the world, as well as gangsters, drug traffickers and
militants and rebels of all stripes.
In 1973,
Chile’s communist President Salvador Allende died holding an AK-47 — a gift
from Soviet-backed Cuban leader Fidel Castro — in a coup d’etat staged by
pro-U.S. General Augusto Pinochet.
Thirty
years later, invading U.S. troops found a gold-plated Kalashnikov reportedly
given to Saddam Hussein’s son Uday at one of the Iraqi leader’s palaces in
Baghdad.
U.S.
arch-foe Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, poses with a Kalashnikov in his
videotaped diatribes against the West.
Bearded
Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Liberia’s gangs of young thugs wearing
flip-flops, Somali hijackers and South American guerrillas — all seem to
admire the rifle that continues to work in dust, sand and swampy water.
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“It
is painful for me to see when criminal elements of all kinds fire from my
weapon,” Kalashnikov said in a videotaped address to a conference of
Russian arms traders and designers held in October 2008, shortly before his
90th birthday.
“I created
this weapon primarily to defend the borders of our fatherland.”
At first,
the upstart Kalashnikov got a cool reception. Renowned Soviet arms designers
scoffed at the first, primitive gun which the young sergeant crafted in 1942
while in hospital in Kazakhstan. Five years later, Kalashnikov’s rifle beat out
the models proposed by some of the same designers.
Kalashnikov,
a sergeant during World War Two who was once severely wounded and pulled from a
burning tank, used to say that simplicity and reliability save lives in war
situations.
“So
this has been my lifetime motto — I have created weapons … to be simple and
reliable.”
Those
qualities have led to avid imitation, with erstwhile communist allies like
Bulgaria flooding the market with copies of the fabled weapon.
In Soviet
days, Moscow would routinely sign 25-year licence agreements with communist
satellites in Eastern Europe allowing them to produce Kalashnikovs. Now such
agreements have expired.
About
half of the world’s roughly estimated 100 million Kalashnikovs are counterfeit
copies produced without licences.
“This
powerful rifle … is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to turn a farmer,
teacher, peasant or even a teenager into an effective killing machine,”
Larry Kahaner wrote in his book “AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face
of War”.
“Many
western military experts consider it a piece of junk. Some US soldiers prefer
the AK especially in Iraq where dust tends to jam their M-16 rifles but does
not affect the AK.”
The
Kalashnikov is officially in service in 55 countries of the world. Several
national emblems feature the rifle, and boys in developing nations have been
named “Kalash” after it.
Mikhail
Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was born on Nov. 10, 1919 — during the civil war that
followed the Bolshevik Revolution — into a large peasant family in the village
of Kurya in the remote Altai region of southern Siberia.
In Soviet
times, he was twice honoured as “Hero of Socialist Labour” and became
a Stalin Prize and Lenin Prize laureate. Once a Red Army sergeant, he was given
the rank of colonel in 1969 and rose to a two-star general by the end of his
life.
Having no
university diploma, he was awarded a doctoral degree in engineering in 1971.
But
Kremlin plaudits and decorations did not make him rich.
In the
West, his invention would likely have made him a millionaire. In Russia, he
lived in a modest Soviet-era apartment in the city of Izhevsk, near the Ural
Mountains east of Moscow, where his famous gun is produced.
After meeting
M-16 designer Eugene Stoner in the 1990s, Kalashnikov said his rich American
colleague was flying his own plane, while the Russian could hardly afford the
950-km (590 mile) flight from Izhevsk to Moscow.
Reuters
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