During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, as well as United States and other NATO nations supplied arms and technical knowledge to numerous countries and rebel forces around the world. During this time the Western countries used relatively expensive automatic rifles, such as the FN FAL, the HK G3, the M14, and the M16. In contrast, the Russians and Chinese used the AK-47; its low production cost and ease of manufacture allow them to make AKs in vast numbers.
In the pro-communist states, the AK-47 became a symbol of the Third World revolution. They were utilized in the Cambodian Civil War and the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. During the 1980s, the Soviet Union became the principal arms dealer to countries embargoed by Western nations, including Middle Eastern nations such as Iran, Libya, and Syria, which welcomed Soviet Union backing against Israel. After the fall of the Soviet Union, AK-47s were sold both openly and on the black market to any group with cash, including drug cartels and dictatorial states, and more recently they have been seen in the hands of Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraq, and FARC, Ejército de Liberación Nacional guerrillas in Colombia.
In Russia, the Kalashnikov is a tremendous source of national pride. “The family of the inventor of the world’s most famous assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has authorized German engineering company MMI to use the well-known Kalashnikov name on a variety of not-so-deadly goods.” In recent years, Kalashnikov Vodka has been marketed with souvenir bottles in the shape of the AK-47 Kalashnikov. There are also Kalashnikov watches, umbrellas, and knives.
The Kalashnikov Museum (also called the AK-47 museum) opened on 4 November 2004 in Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic. This city is in the Ural Region of Russia. The museum chronicles the biography of General Kalashnikov and documents the invention of the AK-47. The museum complex of Kalashnikov’s small arms, a series of halls, and multimedia exhibitions are devoted to the evolution of the AK-47 assault rifle and attracts 10,000 monthly visitors. Nadezhda Vechtomova, the museum director, stated in an interview that the purpose of the museum is to honor the ingenuity of the inventor and the hard work of the employees and to “separate the weapon as a weapon of murder from the people who are producing it and to tell its history in our country”. On 19 September 2017 a 9 metres (30 ft) monument of Kalashnikov was unveiled in central Moscow. A protester, later detained by police, attempted to unfurl a banner reading “a creator of weapons is a creator of death”.
The proliferation of this weapon is reflected by more than just numbers. The AK-47 is included in the flag of Mozambique and its emblem, an acknowledgment that the country gained its independence in large part through the effective use of their AK-47s. It is also found in the coats of arms of East Timor and the revolution era Burkina Faso, as well as in the flags of Hezbollah, Syrian Resistance, FARC-EP, the New People’s Army, TKP/TIKKO and the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces.
Some Western countries associate the AK-47 with their enemies; both Cold War era and present-day. For example, Western movies often portray criminals, gang members and terrorists using AK-47s. For these reasons, in the U.S. and Western Europe, the AK-47 is stereotypically regarded as the weapon of choice of insurgents, gangsters and terrorists. Conversely, throughout the developing world, the AK-47 can be positively attributed with revolutionaries against foreign occupation, imperialism, or colonialism.
The AK-47 made an appearance in U.S. popular culture as a recurring focus in the Nicolas Cage film Lord of War (2005). Numerous monologues in the movie focus on the weapon, and its effects on global conflict and the gun running market. In 2006, the Colombian musician and peace activist César López devised the escopetarra, an AK converted into a guitar. One sold for US$17,000 in a fundraiser held to benefit the victims of anti-personnel mines, while another was exhibited at the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament. In Mexico, the AK-47 is known as “Cuerno de Chivo” (literally “Goat’s Horn”) because of its curved magazine design. It is one of the weapons of choice of Mexican drug cartels. It is sometimes mentioned in Mexican folk music lyrics.
The AK-47, or AK as it is officially known (Russian: Автома́т Кала́шникова, tr. Avtomát Kaláshnikova, lit. Kalashnikov’s Automatic Rifle), also known as the Kalashnikov, is a gas-operated, 7.62×39mm assault rifle, developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov. It is the originating firearm of the Kalashnikov rifle (or “AK”) family.
Even after almost seven decades, the model and its variants remain the most popular and widely used assault rifles in the world because of their substantial reliability under harsh conditions, low production costs compared to contemporary Western weapons, availability in virtually every geographic region and ease of use. The AK-47 has been manufactured in many countries and has seen service with armed forces as well as irregular forces and insurgencies worldwide, and was the basis for developing many other types of individual, crew-served and specialised firearms. As of 2004, “Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s”.