On May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell to Mehmed the Conqueror, the leader of the Ottoman Turks. Byzantium’s 1,500-year history came to a thunderous end as Ottoman bombards — massive siege cannons firing enormous projectiles weighing as much as a ton — battered the ancient walls to rubble. The Ottoman bombards were cast and crewed by a man known as Orban (of Hungarian or, ironically, German ancestry) and his staff, who had recently offered their services to the Byzantine emperor, who apparently could not afford them. Mehmed found the investment worthwhile, however. MKE, the Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation of Turkey, traces its lineage to that fateful siege that ended one empire and gave impetus to another. Today, MKE considers those massive bombards its origin in weapons manufacturing.
Although MKE itself only dates to 1950, the companies and organizations from which it is descended date roughly to Constantinople’s fall. Having witnessed the power and efficacy of the bombards, no Ottoman force was seen without them again, although the Ottoman artillery corps certainly evolved over the centuries in concert with developments in military technology. As the Ottoman Empire expanded until the mid-17th century, then slowly contracted into its pre-World War I borders, MKE’s predecessors matured along with it.
The most dramatic and fundamental changes came in the 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire tried to compete on the world stage with European powers that had dramatically outpaced it due to the Industrial Revolution. The Ottomans found a willing partner in Germany and, together in 1909, they established their first native ventures into modern ammunition manufacturing. World War I brought the Ottoman Empire and Germany closer together, and they fought as allies for most of its duration. Although the Ottomans scored a stunning victory at Gallipoli, the war as a whole was not kind to them, and shortly after its end their territory was apportioned among various countries.
Unsatisfied, and feeling violated by the division of their country following World War I, an upstart army of formerly Ottoman Turks founded the modern Republic of Turkey after a protracted struggle, mostly with Greece, for a large portion of what is now western Turkey. Throughout it, the Turks improvised and recycled on a massive scale, reloading practically everything using spent cases recovered on the battlefield — from small arms ammunition to artillery ammunition. At the conclusion of the long and bitter conflict, which is still reasonably fresh in both Turkish and Greek memory, the Turks emerged triumphant. Incidentally, other than some “neatening of the borders” since that time, the Turkey of today is geographically unchanged. This conflict, in particular, impressed upon the Turks the importance of being able to fend for themselves. From that time forward, Turkey has striven to become as independent as possible, especially regarding strategic assets and defense, and MKE has been an integral part of that process.
Following World War II, with the world rapidly dividing itself, Turkey joined NATO. That was in some ways a natural thing for Turkey to do, considering the enduring and historic enmity between itself and Russia. MKE was founded in 1950, and its production and capacity expanded rapidly thereafter.
MKE has long made all sorts of small arms ammunition — from 7.92 Mauser, to .30-06, to .303 British — most of which was reserved for domestic use. Believe it or not, MKE still maintains the capacity to produce any of this ammunition at any time, seeing as the machinery and equipment remain in place in its now ultra-modern small arms ammunition factory just outside of Ankara. However, MKE is by no means limited to small arms ammunition.
In the 1960s and 1970s, MKE rapidly expanded to produce ammunition ranging from 20 mm all the way to 155 mm and 203 mm. It designed and produced NATO-standard general-purpose aerial bombs, aerial rockets, 40 mm grenades, hand grenades, and mines. MKE even manufactures 120 mm APFSDS ammunition for its Leopard 2 and M60T fleets. Further, it was MKE that managed and ran the Turkish end of the licensed HK production. The company continues to sell roller-locking and roller-delayed firearms around the world, and is an ascending player in the international civilian and military arms markets.
MKE also produces mortars, artillery tubes, 120 mm main guns for the M60T and the newly designed Altay, and the 155 mm gun for the new T-155 Firtina self-propelled howitzer. All of that is compatible with NATO systems, and produced in MKE factories that NATO regulates and inspects to ensure adherence to exacting standards. How many of your personal firearms are made by a company that can also make high-tech caseless tank ammunition and 155 mm gun tubes?
In short, MKE is not your average firearms company. It has a history and traditions that span centuries. Its various incarnations have survived the fall of empires and the shifting borders of a turbulent Europe and Middle East, and its operations and capacity continue to expand, as Turkey strives for independence in defense matters. The next time you pick up a Zenith Z-series rifle or pistol, be assured you are handling a firearm produced by a company with expertise in virtually every field of ballistics and precision military-grade production.