Coups, successful and failed


The Cosmopolitan Globalists have more experience of coups than most Americans do. We offer some advice.

Claire Berlinski: In the immediate aftermath of the siege of the Capitol—which was, by any meaningful definition, an attempted coup d’état—I asked our 68 writers to offer their thoughts on the coups, attempted and successful, that they had lived through.

The experience is unfamiliar to Americans but very familiar to Bolivians, Turks, and many others around the globe. Between 1950 and 2010, there were 457 coup attempts around the globe; of these, 49.7 percent were successful.

I was no longer living in Turkey on July 15, 2016, the most recent of many coups there, failed and successful. That one failed. I remained, though—as I remain—extremely close to my Turkish friends. I lived long enough in Turkey to know that every aspect of Turkish history, culture, and society had been scarred and deformed by coups, and I do mean every aspect.

It is astonishing that the insane language of Turkish politics has been imported, verbatim, to the United States. No one in America in 2009 was conversant with the term “Deep State.” I had to explain the phrase every time to my editors; it occasioned patronizing chuckles and, at times, requests that I explain the pathology of a culture where people would believe something like that—it surely had something to do with Islam, right? To see the same language emanating from the mouths of American conspiracists in 2020 suggests—well, I don’t know what it suggests. But no one in the US ranted on about these things in 2009. Now we sound just like Turkey—word-for-word.

The widespread fear of another coup destroyed democracy in Turkey. Erdoğan and his allies had but to accuse a rival or a journalist of being a coup-plotter to put him away, however flimsy the evidence against him. Many were put away on no evidence at all. Turks didn’t object because they had lived through coups and all of their devastating consequences. The details of these prosecutions were murky and obscure, but Turks knew one thing for sure: They did not want another coup. So it astonished me that on July 15, 2016, serious American commentators were speaking of that bungled, stupid coup as if it might be a good thing. Did they realize how stupid and evil they sounded? I guess not.

Coups and attempted coups, are so traumatic that they come to be named by the date they took place, and everyone knows those dates, even generations later. September 11 is an infamous day to Americans for reasons they surely recall. Try asking Chileans what September 11 means to them. Try asking Turks what September 12 means to them. Everyone remembers these things as vividly as Americans remember September 11—and as vividly as Americans will remember January 6, because even when the coup attempt fails, the country is forever scarred by it.

God help you if it succeeds.

A few more things I can say and predict, based on what I learned, over a decade, about Turkish coups. First, in time, no one will admit they supported Trump. No one. You will speak to Americans and, in a true spirit of curiosity, ask them, “Did you support him?” You may find—perhaps in forty years—that someone who is very close, and very trusted, will tell you the truth. But they’ll never say it in public and never with pride.

The truth is that many in Turkey supported the coup regimes. Many in the United States, obviously, supported that coup attempt. You can’t have such a thing without a dismaying amount of support for it.

I truly did not think Turkey would see another coup. I thought it was obvious, by then—given the number of suspected coup-plotters in prison and the eagerness of the Turkish public to see them all rot, guilty or innocent—that if the Turkish public loathed anything, it was darbeciler, coup plotters. No one would be insane enough to try it. Clearly no one would support it. But they were insane enough to try it—and no one supported it. Once you let that genie out of the bottle, it is hard to put back.

In the wake of such a serious thing, civil liberties tend to go out the window. Our justice system has been the most responsible part of our democracy—and perhaps the only responsible part—during the past four years. It will continue to be. But there will be, as always, an overreaction and a backlash. Innocent people’s lives will be destroyed. I have no sympathy for the figures now warning of this, though. They brought it on themselves.

Yet—they are right. I know this feeling, too, from years in Turkey. The people who did the most to destroy democracy will be the loudest to shriek about the coming attack on their civil liberties. It will be hard to remember that you should always be in favor of civil liberties—everyone’s—even if the people whose liberties are being trampled upon are Gülenist shills and vuvuzelas who absolutely had it coming. If you can’t remember that, you’ve become what you fear.


Alp Yuksel, Istanbul

  1. Get some cash from the nearest ATM
  2. Delete any tweets and other social media stuff that might get you into trouble in the new atmosphere
  3. Follow different media sources, varying in their political alignments to be able to make sense of the wider picture.
  4. Hang a flag from your balcony (assuming it’s still the same flag after the coup, in 1989 in Romania, the coup people cut out the middle part of the flag).
  5. Play loud military marches or nationalist music from your home. (On September 12, all of a sudden, the old, forgotten, nationalist folk singer Hasan Mutlucan had a great comeback.
  6. Dispose of any books that could be dangerous if you’re found with them. (Back after the mini-coup on March 12th 1971, that’s what I remember my dad did. Burned dozens of books. And my dad was even an officer.)
  7. Prepare a small bag of underwear and essentials for in case they come to arrest you (usually in the early hours of the morning).
  8. When you are on the phone talking to whoever, praise the coup and the people that did it.


From a Cosmoglobalist whose creds include Guatemala 1993, Republique du Niger, 1974, Nigeria 1966 (January and June), and Biafran War 1970:

  1. The plotters always go for the TV and radio stations first. Telephone exchanges used to be a bigger deal but most plotters can’t manage the cell infrastructure, much less control it.
  2. If you live where coups are relatively common, fortify your house. Mine is surrounded by a three-meter wall made of blast-resistant concrete, topped with shattered glass in slope mortar and electrified razor wire. There’s a crenellated firing tower with cleared fields of fire.
  3. Always have a few police officers on retainer. Coups usually involve some breakdown in law enforcement and it really helps to have people who have firearms training up the aforementioned tower.
  4. Have cash reserves. US dollars, please—not local currency.
  5. In good times or bad, any local assets should be 51 percent owned by locals—and have all your paperwork handy, preferably in your lawyer’s office. The shortages will be divided among the peasants.
  6. Do not pay bribes—ever. Once you pay one bribe… /fin

The editors note that while our correspondents are consistent in their advice to keep cash reserves in US dollars, that’s probably because until now, the United States and its currency have been seen as extremely stable. We pass along the advice with that caveat.

Also, from our Turkish friends, who really know: A serious coup happens at night, not during the day. The first thing you need to figure out, when trying to establish how bad it is, is whether the coup-plotters are acting within the chain of command—in which case it’s dead serious.

This is the way Turkey tends to respond to these things, YMMV: “Whatever the warrants and eventual indictments might say, the usual pattern is to arrest everyone from operational people to propagandists to active sympathizers (with a few people they dislike thrown in). It looks like a chicken with its head cut off.”


Jon Nighswander I was living in Moscow when Boris Yeltsin shelled the White House, the seat of the Parliament of the Russian Federation.

It seemed there was a lot at stake. Certainly, the world media thought so. There were tanks on the streets. Live updates on CNN. The gleaming white parliament, a symbol of the hope of the new, post-Soviet Russian Federation, was reduced to an ugly charred shell. At least 145 people died. Yet within a few years, the whole event had mostly become an embarrassment that Russians rarely discussed and the world at large mostly forgot.

My first thought on October 3, when the rumors of fighting at the Ostankino broadcasting tower started to spread, was where to hide. I was a young American who had never lived through anything more dangerous than being lost in the Bronx. I imagined civilians running in terror, hand-to-hand street fighting, bullets flying through windows, corpses hanging from lamp posts. An idealistic American lawyer had actually been killed in the early fighting.

But the reality of a coup turned out to be a lot more mundane. The subway cars kept rolling; the impoverished pensioners still laid their blankets out on the sidewalk, hoping to trade their old possessions for a few rubles; the kiosks continued to sell pirated VHS tapes and Snickers. People stuck to their daily routines.

Moscow is a very large city, and, even though it was inside the Ring Line of the Moscow Metro, my neighborhood might as well have been in Nizhny Novgorod as far as the coup was concerned. The demonstrations and the fighting were limited to a very small geographic area. The main action turned out to be T-80 tanks from the Tamanskaya division leisurely shelling a seemingly defenseless building. Rumor had it there were snipers inside the White House shooting at the presidential forces and the occasional careless bystander. None of it seemed heroic.

It turns out a coup is not a revolution, and there wasn’t a lot of popular enthusiasm for either side. For the most part, the citizens of Moscow saw the struggle as a fight between two unappealing cliques, neither of whom offered more than platitudes for making Russia great again.

For those who no longer remember, the coup had been touched off by Boris Yeltsin’s impeachment on September 23, 1993. This in turn reflected a struggle for power between Yeltsin and the aging communist Ruslan Khasbulatov, who had consolidated his control over the Russian parliament following the collapse of the USSR. Their clash led to a constitutional crisis. Khasbulatov, along with Vice-President Aleksandr Rutskoy, led the Supreme Soviet of Russia to impeach Yeltsin, who didn’t believe he should be impeached. The clash ended with Yeltsin’s violent assault on the parliament, which was dissolved. Most of my Russian friends were pro-Western in those days, and that meant, by default, pro-Yeltsin. Confusingly to Westerners, pro-democracy Russians were anti-parliament because they saw Rutskoi and Khasbulatov, in particular, as old Soviet dead-enders trying to roll back the tide.

The atmosphere was not Paris in 1871, nor even Moscow in 1917, and I didn’t see many idealists eager to rush to the ramparts.

Thoughtful Russians saw the ethical dilemma and the oxymoron: What does it mean to “preserve democracy” by supporting an armed attack on an elected body of the people’s representatives? A lot of the Western media seemed willing to obscure that issue at the time.

My landlord, however, was a staunch Communist Party member—which in modern America is the sociological equivalent of a staunch QAnon follower. Evgenii Arkadievich was divorced, a middle-aged civil engineer. The ministry where he’d worked for years no longer needed him. He was now forced to rent his apartment to a spoiled foreigner—me—for hard currency. Evgenii was bitter about how his life had turned out and humiliated at the spectacle of his country falling apart. Between shots of vodka he would explain, in detail, the Jewish and CIA led conspiracies that had provoked the Soviet Union’s collapse. The pro-democracy demonstrators were all on someone’s payroll, of course. I even recall George Soros being mentioned, but that may be a trick of memory. Despite his anger, Evgenii never seriously considered going outside to fight for Rutskoi. Even in Moscow in the 1990s, most people lived in enough material comfort that they weren’t really willing to risk their lives for a principle.

The shelling did make for a memorable spectacle, and most of my expatriate friends wandered over to the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment to take photographs so they could impress their friends back home. Back then, getting video clips required lugging around an actual video camera, so we left that to the news agencies. My more ambitious Russian friends mostly stayed away from the whole scene and applied themselves to improving their English and looking for well-paying jobs with the Big Six accounting firms.

The coup did not result in sustainable free market reforms or a true rapprochement with the West. But it emasculated the Russian Parliament, subverted the constitutional order and strengthened the office of the president, building the highway to Putin. The Trump supporters who sincerely believe they’re fighting a Flight 93 battle for the survival of democracy might want to consider this.

More importantly, it showed that democracy can’t survive in a country where a significant section of the population is cynical and distrustful of all political leadership. America is not Moscow in 1993, but that sordid moment deserves more respect from historians. It was the template for the postmodern kind of coup, driven by social media, that we saw on January 6th.

Together, the authors have lived through four decades of coups and putsches on four different continents.

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