How We Had a Coup

Nick Danforth
9 min readMay 10, 2020

From Aziz Nesin’s 1965 book “İhtilali Nasıl Yaptık.”

When you really think about it, we deserve to be in power today. We belong in power. If we don’t find ourselves there at the moment, it’s a matter of our misfortune. Not entirely misfortune. Admittedly, we might have made a slight mistake.

We had carried out our coup and taken power. But sadly, we were unable to notify anyone that we had carried it out or taken power. And a coup doesn’t do any good if no one knows and the people never find out.

Imagine what a mess we were in. One night you’re carrying out a coup and completely, yes completely, seizing control of the country. But you aren’t able to tell the country you’ve seized it.

Rest assured, we carefully accounted for everything. We didn’t neglect the slightest or most remote possibility. No coup in history was as well calculated and flawlessly executed as ours. We just forgot one thing. To look at the almanac. If we’d looked at the almanac we would have seen that mid-July in Övreke is always at least a little rainy. ­Somehow, in all the excitement of the coup, none of our friends in the junta thought to listen to the weather report on the radio. Or call the Meteorology Bureau and ask.

Do you know what a little bit of mid-July rain means for us in Övreke? Life completely stops. As soon as a few drops fall, radios stop working, telephones stop ringing, water, gas and electricity are cut, buses, planes, trains, ferries, cars, every means of transportation stops running. So we decided July was just right for a coup. Because in Övreke, July is so hot that our entire capital of Matrakopolis empties out. Only the people so poor that they have to worry about making a living remain. All the ministers and government grandees and leading figures of Övreke go, together with the prominent families who can’t stand the heat, to cool off in their summer homes or coastal resorts. In July, no one remains in the offices of the capital of Matrakopolis besides the janitors asleep in their chairs in the office lobbies. In other words, the government is empty. At this point, a coup is nothing more than opening the office doors and walking inside. Anyone who gets it into their heads to say “alright folks let’s have a coup,” can have one.

I’m still astounded that, having accounted for everything, as you can see, we managed to forget that in Övreke in July there’s always a sprinkling of rain. Dear god that was dumb.

Me, Colonel Ebülhijab and First Lieutenant Ibnibevval we going to take the radio station. Major General Hüseyin El Matraki and three others were going to take the Palace of Flavor Restaurant. District Governor Mahmed Medibani and four others were going to take the post office and the dormitory of the girl’s school. General Hayyam and his team had been assigned the stadium and the slaughterhouse.

In short, we’d assigned all the most important places to capture in a coup. Blind Hamidullah, Military Protocol Director Fourth Class (Retired), was even going to take the prison and, if the coup was unsuccessful, set aside the best cells for us. We’d really thought of everything.

At the stroke of midnight we were ready to mobilize and occupy all of the government ministries.

One member of our junta, Colonel Sehabüljenap, suggested we not bother with the Central Bank. Major General Ebülfeddal asked why.

The Colonel responded, “let’s not waste manpower on ministries that don’t do anything.”

Accepting his suggestion, we quickly gave up on taking the Ministries of Finance, Planning, and Statistics.

In tallying the ministries that didn’t do anything, Colonel Ebülhijap realized there weren’t any that did do anything and said, “if we give up on seizing the useless ministries, we’ll have to give up on the whole coup.”

“But it’s because we can’t find a ministry that does do anything that we’re having a coup” explained District Governor Behlul. And with that we realized why we were about to act.

My compatriots were going to telephone to tell me when they had seized all the government ministries, and I was going to inform the people of Övreke that the coup had been successful. Because of my deep and resonant voice, radio duty had been given to me.

Right as we were about to deploy, First Lieutenant Ibnibevval said, “Look are the Americans on board with this coup? A coup won’t work without the Americans’ approval.”

We decided to send a four-person committee, including myself, to appeal to the American Ambassador. As we reached him, we saw five other people who were just leaving. If we didn’t act fast, we realized, another group would carry out its coup before ours.

The Ambassador received us warmly.

Suddenly, our spokesman turned to us and said, “well look at this, I can’t for the life of me remember what the Americans call a coup. Does anyone know the English word for it.”

I did, of course, but in the heat of the moment I forgot too. So sadly, we told the Ambassador we were about to do something, but we couldn’t tell him what it was we were about to do. At that point I tried to convey our plans to him through hand gestures, but the esteemed Ambassador misunderstood what I meant and took offense.

Finally, we got our point across. The Ambassador responded, “If you succeed, we support you. If you don’t, we continue to support the current government.”

Having gotten our guarantee from the Americans, we all set about our work.

In the absence of any resistance, we strolled into the Radio station. Then we waited for the call from our compatriots. After three hours passed without a call, we began to worry. If they arrested our fellow plotters, they could catch us here easily. As a precaution, we decided that if they found us and asked what our business was at the radio station, we would say that we were here to give us a concert and play a march. But — more bad luck — there wasn’t a single person among us who could play an instrument. We went from room to room and gathered up the instruments we could find. I got a lute and started practicing. One of us got a tambourine and another some sort of stringed thing.

I told Colonel Ebülhijap, “go check, have our friends have seized power yet?”

The colonel marched proudly off into the darkness, just like that. When we didn’t hear from him I sent the First Lieutenant. He didn’t come back. I started to get scared that the coup was turning into a fiasco. Maybe I’d be smart to save myself by going to the government and reporting the plot.

As I was considering this, my last remaining compatriot said, “By this point our friends must have taken over the government. You should go on the radio and announce that we are now in control, that nothing will change in the country and that no one has any reason to fear.”

“It’s easy to say that on the radio,” I replied, “but if they’ve got all our friends and thrown them in jail already won’t we sound a bit stupid?”

A little while later the lights went out. First we thought it was a fuse, but then we realized the electricity had been completely cut. I went out on the street. It was completely dark. Since there were no cars I proceeded to the main ministry on foot. There was Colonel Ebülfeddal.

“What happened Ebülfeddal?” I asked.

“I got them” He said.

“You got the king?” I said.

“No, there was another junta. They were going to do a coup tonight too. I captured all of them before I got to the government. We won’t let anyone else have a coup.”

Later we learned there were four separate juntas with coups planned for that night.

“Why didn’t you call me to tell me you were finished with the coup,” I asked Colonel Zührevi.

“How could I call you?” he said, “the telephones aren’t working”

“You weren’t supposed to cut all the lines…”

“We didn’t cut them. There was a little rain in the evening. It took down the whole system.”

“Couldn’t you have sent someone with the news by car?”

“I’m saying it rained. Don’t you understand what that means in Övreke? Cars don’t run. Weren’t you aware?

“So what now? The nation doesn’t even know about our new regime.”

Colonel Zührevi spread our map out on the table and put a chess set on it.

“My mind is so confused I need to play some chess to clear my head,” he said to Ebülfeddal. “Come on.”

I went back to the radio station to announce the news. On the road I found Major Habibi. The poor Major had taken off his shoes to protect them from the mud and was carrying them under his arm.

Seeing me he said, “Just look at this. They left us no choice but to revolt.”

Major Habibi said he had been sent to occupy the Treasury. But finding it empty he went to occupy two more ministries without even leaving a guard.

Major General Ferik added “If I’d known that overthrowing the government was this easy, I would have done it years ago when I was still a captain and retired as a marshal already.”

With the comrades I met on the road I continued to the radio station singing “Is it so easy to fool my Dürriye?”

As I began to tell the people of Övreke, with my deep and resonant voice, that we had taken power, an officer came in.

“You’re shouting for nothing,” he said. “Ever since the rain started, broadcasting stopped. There’s a technical problem with the station.”

“Alright then, how should we tell the nation we’ve taken over,” I asked, “send them each an individually addressed letter?”

Ebülhijap jumped in, “The telephones are working. Let’s start calling people. Then they can tell each other.” He dialed a random number and started talking.

Since everyone in in the junta was keeping tabs on everyone else, we were able to listen to Ebülhijap’s conversation via wiretap:

“We’re the Revolutionary Committee…

A sleepy voice answered, “What? Which Committee?”

The conversation continued:

“We have taken control of the country.”

“God bless you. We were just wondering who we could find to topple this government and get us out of this mess. Who are you?”

“I’m Colonel Ebülhijap of the Revolutionary Committee. We just wanted you to know we’d taken over and ask if you could tell your neighbors.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“The radio station. Who are you?”

“I’m the Chief Minister.”

“Whooooo?” the Colonel cried, fainting.

The lines must have gotten crossed in the rain, and now the Colonel had just tipped off the government.

“Look at this scandal,” Lieutenant Ibnibevval declared, “no one even knows we’re running the country.”

“Forget about running the country,” General Hayyam said, “they’re going to come arrest us all.”

“Why didn’t you arrest the Chief Minister?” I asked.

“The roads were too muddy to send a car.”

And suddenly we all rushed back to our regular jobs. I went to my office at the Self Defense Ministry and started furiously reading a stack of classified memos.

A little later the Minister called me to his office: “According to information received from our intelligence services, if it hadn’t rained tonight a revolutionary junta was going to launch a coup d’etat against our government. Here are the reports… Investigate immediately.”

“Should I have them arrested” I asked?

“What nonsense.” he roared. “To the contrary. We’ll act like nothing happened so that they can have their coup and spare our government from the misery of holding power. We just need to have a plane waiting to flee in….”

It’s been a full five years since our coup. We really should be in power now. But alas we weren’t ever able to tell anybody that we actually were. Power is pointless if the nation doesn’t know you have it. The poor people of Övreke don’t even know that their government was overthrown five years ago. They still think it’s legitimate.

To anyone who wants to have a coup in Övreke, I say choose a clear night. And, just to make sure things go smoothly, give the government a quiet heads up first.

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