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23 Dec, 2013 23:05

RIP Kalashnikov: 20 facts you may not have known about AK-47 and its creator

RIP Kalashnikov: 20 facts you may not have known about AK-47 and its creator

Fail-safe, simple to use and cheap to produce – the world’s most popular weapon, AK-47, will long remain a monument to its late ‘father,’ Mikhail Kalashnikov, who died in Russia on Monday aged 94.

1. Mikhail Kalashnikov, who was a tank commander during World War II, began his career as a weapons designer after a shoulder injury during the Battle of Bryansk. While in hospital in 1942, he overheard wounded soldiers complaining about Soviet rifles and decided to change that.

Senior Sergeant Mikhail Kalashnikov as he designed his AK-47 assault rifle. (RIA Novosti)
2. The first Kalashnikov rifle was produced in 1947, bringing its creator the Stalin Prize and the Order of the Red Star. The AK-47 has been the standard issue assault rifle of the Soviet and then Russian army since 1949.

3. Durability, low production cost, availability and ease of use are the features, which assured AK-47 global success. Kalashnikov’s creation performs in sandy or wet conditions that jam more sophisticated weapons. The designer called it a “symbol of the creative genius” of the Russian people.

4. The AK-47 has made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the most widely spread weapon in the world, with 100 million Kalashnikov rifles currently in use.

5. Military and special forces in 106 countries around the globe from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe are now armed with AK-47s.

6. Russia not only distributes the Kalashnikov rifles all over the world, but also licensed its production in over 30 other countries, including China, Israel, India, Egypt and Nigeria.

7. It is believed that AK-47s have caused more deaths than artillery fire, airstrikes and rocket attacks combined. An estimated quarter of a million people are gunned down by bullets from Kalashnikovs every year.

8. But Mikhail Kalashnikov himself never experienced self-reproach about the blood spilled with the help of his invention as he created AK-47 for protection. “I sleep well. It’s the politicians, who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” he said in 2007.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan displays a AK47 gun transformed to a guitar at Vienna's U.N. headquarters September 11, 2007. (Reuters / Herwig Prammer)

9. Relative cheapness has always been one of the most important advantages of AK-47. The average global price of the assault rifle was estimated at $534 in 2005, according to Oxford University economist Phillip Killicoat. Though in African countries the price of AK-47 is on average $200 cheaper.

10. Osama bin Laden always had a Kalashnikov rifle with him during his video appearances. According to some reports, it was the US, which gave the Al Qaeda founder his first AK-47 to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden (Reuters / Hamid Mir / Editor / Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn)
11. During the Vietnam War, many American soldiers gave up their M16s for the more reliable Kalashnikov rifles, which they picked up from dead enemies. Even now, the US marines carry AK-47 magazines with them because of how common the weapon is.

12. The image of AK-47 appears on the flag of Mozambique as well as coats of arms of Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso (1984-97) and East Timor. The Kalashnikov rifle is also present on the flag of Lebanese militant organization, Hezbollah.

13. The parents in some African states name their babies ‘Kalash,’ which is another nickname for the Kalashnikov assault rifle, according to a documentary by Russia’s Channel One.

14. Russia’s top basketball player, Andrey Kirilenko, born in the city of Izhevsk, which hosts the Kalashnikov rifle factory, has played under No.47 in the NBA and was nicknamed ‘AK-47.’

15. Egypt has immortalized the AK-47 by erecting a giant monument, portraying a barrel and bayonet of a Kalashnikov rifle at the Sinai Peninsula.

16. A gold coated Kalashnikov assault rifle was recovered by US troops from the weapon collection of former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

17. Coins dedicated to Mikhail Kalashnikov and his creation were issued not only in Russia, but also in such a peaceful place as New Zealand, which marked the rifle’s 60th birthday with special two-dollar pieces. They came in cases shaped after the AK-47 magazine.

Reuters / Grant Neuenberg

18. French newspaper, Liberation, has named AK-47 the most important invention of the XX century, with the Russian rifle leaving the atomic bomb and space flight behind.

19. Mixing vodka, absinth, lemon, cinnamon and sugar is the recipe for the Kalashnikov shot drink. There’s also a Kalashnikov vodka brand, which has been sold in bottles resembling the shape of an AK-47 since 2004.

20. Colombian artist, Cesar Lopez, has transformed a dozen of AK-47s into guitars, with then UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, getting one of the musical instruments as a gift in 2007.

Malian army paratrooper Ousmane Sangare, aged 26, holds an AK-47 assault rifle in Gao north of Bamako (AFP Photo / Joel Saget)