A Turkish Firearms Tour: Day 1

It's not often that you get the opportunity to travel to a foreign country, much less travel to Turkey to tour a firearm manufacturing plant, but that's what I did last recently.

I've heard it said several times that guns made in Turkey are a great bargain, if they work.  That may sound a bit harsh, but it also is rather accurate'¦.or, at least, it used to be.

RELATED: Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

There are several gun manufacturers in Turkey, but Sarsilmaz is the largest.  They recently opened a huge new facility two hours outside Istanbul, and wanted to show some U.S. gun writers that things have changed.  Their equipment is state of the art, and because wages are so low compared to wages in the U.S. or Europe, they can produce guns at a substantially lower price.

Sarsilmaz will be importing their pistols and shotguns into the U.S. as SAR Arms, as it is a little easier to pronounce.  Sarsilmaz, by the way, means "Unshakable", has been in business since 1880, and is a 5th-generation family business.  European American Armory (www.eaacorp.com) is the exclusive U.S. distributor of their products.

This diary will be a travelogue as well as a preview of guns that either are or soon will be available in this country, as you don't fly a third of the way around the world without doing a few touristy things, and the first day we were there we toured Istanbul.

Istanbul has been around so long that pre-Roman architecture is pretty easy to find.  We toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, and an underground Roman cistern bigger than some high schools.  What got our guide the most excited, however, was talking about how just a few months before Daniel Craig had been in town filming for the next James Bond movie Skyfall.  Apparently they were racing motorcycles across the roof of the Grand Bazaar, a roofed marketplace of 66 streets that is the mother of all flea-markets.

Knowing Turkey was predominantly an Islamic country, and knowing how America isn't exactly making friends in a lot of Islamic countries around the world, I deliberately didn't cut my hair before heading overseas.  I usually prefer a military-length hairstyle, and while I wasn't willing to plaster Canadian flags over my luggage and clothing to confuse the haters, I did get on the plane with hair longer than an inch for the first time in quite a while......turns out I didn't need to.

Predominantly Muslim or not, Turkey isn't an "Arabic" country, it's a Mediterranean country that reminded me more of Italy than anything else.  Just about everybody wore western-style clothing, and there were a heck of a lot of European tourists everywhere.  And my plan to disguise myself by having hair longer than a fingernail and wearing jeans?  It probably would have worked better if I wasn't walking around with a bunch of guys dressed in Blackhawk and 5.11 Tactical clothing, most of whom looked like they run regularly.

"Are you soldiers?  You look like soldiers," one of the vendors in the Grand Bazaar said to us.  Sigh.

We also toured Topkapi Palace.  This was the only place in the whole country where I saw any kind of military presence.  The guards at the gate bore HK MP5 submachineguns that are made in Turkey by MKE, an HK-licensed factory.  What I noticed was not only that the guards had the SMGs deployed on their HK slings, but that the stocks were extended and ready to go.  I wanted to take a picture of one of them, but my guide informed me that would be a very bad idea.  Istanbul isn't bad at all, but Turkey borders Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and has a lot of problems with terrorists on the opposite side of the country.  Turkey has the 4th largest standing army in the world at 2 million, and their troops see action.

Check back for Day 2 to find out what sidearms the combat-tested Turkish military uses, and where to vacation if you like Russian or German women'¦.

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