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Coups d’etat have become less common but more successful

  • Keith Collins
By Keith Collins

Tech Reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The recent military coup attempt in Turkey was the sixth in the country’s history. Three of those attempts—in 1960, 1971, and 1980—succeeded. The one on July 15 was the third to have failed.

As a country that straddles two continents, whether the frequency of Turkey’s military coups is common depends on which side you look at. Among its neighbors in Western Asia, there have been 45 attempted coups since 1950:

But in Eastern Europe, there have only been two attempted coups in that time: one in the Soviet Union in 1991, when Politburo hardliners tried and failed to oust Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. (Arguably, the latter may not even count as a coup, but the researcher who compiled this data explains the reasoning behind its inclusion here.)

In any case, coup d’etat attempts have been growing less frequent across the world, particularly since the end of the Cold War:

In fact, before the military tried to unseat Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the last attempt at a coup in Western Asia was in Qatar in 1996.

The researchers who collected these data, led by Jonathan M. Powell of the University of Central Florida, defined coups as “illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive,” and count successes “as episodes in which the perpetrators control power for at least 7 days.”

And despite the decline in the number of attempts, the researchers found in a 2011 paper that the rate of success was going up (pdf).

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