20th Anniversary of Soviet Coup

Posted on August 20, 2011 by Alexandra Avakian

August 19, 1991, 20 years ago today: the Soviet coup in Moscow. Much of the action happened at the Beeleh Dom (Russian White House) across the street from my apartment on the Moscow River.  I woke up on a Sunday morning to find tanks rolling down Kutuzovsky Blvd.

In this picture Boris Yeltsin is addressing protesters from the balcony of the Beeleh Dom. His bodyguards recognized me and let me work.

Russian friends were soon on the barricades: I found one of them, a rock producer, with an Orthodox priest convincing soldiers in tanks to turn around at 3 am in an underpass. Truly thrilling to be there.  

There were frightening aspects too: one sleepless night on the barricades rumors circulated that Spetznaz (Russian Special Forces) would come up through the sewers to attack protesters.

From September 1990 to September 1992 I lived in Moscow.

Working for TIME, I covered Perstroika, Glasnost and the end of the USSR  from 1988-1992 from the Baltics to the Central Asian republics, including the civil wars and uprisings.

A quarter of my family disappeared from their Tiblisi homes during Stalin's Great Terror, so covering the end of the USSR had deep personal and professional meaning....

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