Combat helo pilot accused of flying ghost chopper to strike Erdoğan’s palace turned out to be on vacation

Cobra helicopters used by the Turkish Land Forces.

Abdullah Bozkurt


Turkish authorities pinned the blame for airstrikes from a ghost Cobra helicopter during a failed coup in 2016 on an unsuspecting combat pilot who was on a long-planned vacation with his family at the time, over 300 miles from his home base, a review of the case file has revealed.

Maj. Rafet Kalaycı, a 43-year-old veteran combat pilot who had received numerous awards, citations and merits for his successful mission accomplishments in counterterrorism operations, was vacationing in his hometown of Ankara, where his parents still live. He was division commander at the 3rd Land Forces Aviation Regiment Command located in the western province of Izmir, a five-hour drive from the capital city.

Yet the authorities scapegoated this man, who appeared to have played no role in firing on several locations from a ghost helicopter gunship, the identity of which such as tail number was never revealed by investigators. When he refused to sign an incriminating statement after a week of brutal torture and abuse that landed him in surgery at a hospital, investigators fabricated evidence that was later exposed during the trial proceedings when challenged by the defense.

The revelations reinforced the view that the putschist attempt on July 15, 2016 was in fact a false flag operation that was orchestrated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his intelligence and military chiefs to consolidate more power in the hands of the ruling coalition of Islamists, nationalists and neo-nationalists.

In the November-December 2015 period, Kalaycı made his summer vacation plans for July 11-30, 2016, almost eight months before the July 15 events, and informed his superiors accordingly. He wanted to spend some time with his parents in his hometown, where his wife’s family resides as well. He, his wife and three children arrived in Ankara just days before the coup attempt to start enjoying their vacation.


Court transcript of Maj. Rafet Kalaycı’s statement:



When the events started unfolding in the evening hours of Friday, July 15, Kalaycı was at the A-city shopping mall running errands. He was helping fix his in-laws’ house and dropped by the hardware store to pick up a few items. He set out to go to their house in Keçiören after shopping but was stuck in traffic for two or three hours as police and military vehicles had blocked some roads in the city.  When he realized that the gridlocked traffic wouldn’t open up any time soon, he returned to his parent’s house in Demeteveler, not far from the mall. He followed the news on TV all night.

The next morning Maj. Kalaycı was told by his base in Izmir that all leaves of absence had been all cancelled and was ordered by his commanding officer, Lt. Murat Bağ, to return to the base immediately. He took his wife and children and went back to Izmir by car and resumed his duties on Sunday, July 17. He was about to leave his office at around 8 p.m. when the police came to his office at the military base. He was told his statement was needed and put in a police car. Although the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMUK) requires active duty officers to be detained only by military police under the Central Command, not by the police, he was nevertheless dragged to the police station.




He was accused of piloting an AH-1P Cobra helicopter in Ankara and shooting at people in several key locations such as Intelligence headquarters, a police station, the Special Forces Command headquarters and the General Staff headquarters. In his defense statement at the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court on March 13, 2018 Kalaycı exposed major inconsistencies in the indictment and contradictions in the supporting evidence, which he accused the police of manipulating to make him look guilty. The time and date stamps on the phone signals received from cell towers, the radar imprints and the alleged radio communications among pilots clearly contradicted each other.

“No record matches the others. It is obvious that the documents presented as evidence have been tampered with and that an attempt was made to fabricate evidence,” he told the court, listing some of the major problems he discovered in the indictment. One record showed him flying at 23:26 hours on July 15 over the headquarters of the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, located in Yenimahalle, while another showed him flying over the parliament building at the same time. Again, one record indicated he was at the Güvercinlik base of the Land Forces Aviation Command at 24:00 hours, while another claimed he was hovering over the MIT compound until 00:04 hours on July 16. None of it made any sense.


Record of Maj. Rafet Kalaycı’s cell phone signals:



Prosecutor Alpaslan Karabay, who had indicted him, wrote in the indictment that he was at Güvercinlik from 05:09 hours on July 16, while the phone records submitted by the police claimed he had been flying over the Türksat building, a state-owned communications satellite operator, until 05:17 hours. “How can someone be at two different locations at the same time?” Kalaycı asked in court.

According to the alleged radio communication records, the pilot had continuously been flying on a route between the General Staff and MIT throughout the night; yet the police identified only two phone signals in both locations, which was quite bizarre. Kalaycı’s phone should have left many phone signals in both venues if he had made such trips. “That means the people who had to prove that I was actually in these places needed to add a record here,” he explained in his defense and stressed this was part of an effort by the police to produce forged evidence against him.

Another strange finding in the indictment was the lack of any phone signal record that showed both Kalaycı and his alleged co-pilot Murat Karakaş in the same spot all night. The indictment claimed both flew the same helicopter all night, and thus their cell phone tower signal records should have been the same.

“For example, at 22:20 when I was claimed to have flown over MIT, the person I allegedly flew with was there at 22:50 hours. At 23:03 I was supposedly over MIT, while the other person wasn’t in that area. At 23:30, the person was at MIT, and I arrived there 25 minutes later at 23:55. I came back from Türksat at 05:17; the other person returned 10 minutes before me. At 24:00, I returned to Güvercinlik and waited, while the other person flew for another 57 minutes and returned to Güvercinlik at 00:57 hours,” Kalaycı said.

He added: “These are just a few of the discrepancies I’ve discovered so far. The people who tried to fabricate evidence against me made up evidence without even bothering to compare it with other evidence. … How can the phone signal records of people who are alleged to have flown in the same aircraft be so inconsistent? … How can a person be both on the ground and in the air at the same time?”


Another record of Maj. Rafet Kalaycı’s cell phone signals:



The prosecutor submitted a single photo of him allegedly from a CCTV security camera while he was accused of being in the aircraft hangar at Güvercinlik at 23:28-23:29 hours. He challenged the still shot and said he would not have been allowed to enter the base since he was not deployed there. “Isn’t it a contradiction that one person who was allegedly at Güvercinlik all night had only one camera recording and no others?” he asked, implying that the footage was doctored. He also underlined that he was in the air having a conversation at 22:34 hours in the chopper according to the alleged radio records, while the phone tower signals located him flying over the MIT compound at 22:38.

There is no evidence listed against him showing that he actually entered the base according to the CCTV recordings, no trace that he was present in the aircraft hangar and no evidence whatsoever in terms of fingerprints, DNA, hair samples, flight equipment or paperwork that he was in the helicopter that he was accused of piloting on July 15. What is more, the phone records listed in the indictment showed him flying the helicopter at 22:38 hours while claiming he was present at the aircraft hanger at the same time. “Unfortunately the people who tried to fabricate evidence against me did not even bother cross-referencing time stamps,” he told the judges.

Kalaycı also challenged the alleged radio conversation records, saying that no technical analysis had been conducted according to established legal precedents despite the passage of 20 months since the incident. The alleged records indicate he was flying a chopper and talking to other pilots and people on the ground. He found it strange that all other pilots used code names while he was the only one who was using his real name.

“As for the radio recordings contained in the indictment, first of all, my lawyer will explain the details, but radio recordings according to Supreme Court of Appeals precedent are not considered evidence because it is a public conversation that has the possibility of interruption from the outside, and it is not possible to definitively determine who has radio contact with whom. It is possible to add to the records during or after radio contact,” he said. “It is unlawful to claim that the conversations were made by me without comparing them with my voice during the investigation and trial phase. … The radio conversations contained in the indictment are not mine,” he said.




What is more, the investigators failed to identify which helicopter Kalaycı actually piloted that night, whereas all the other helicopters that were involved in incidents were identified by tail number. “I wonder which helicopter I flew and whom I personally hurt. Shouldn’t there be concrete evidence of it?” he said during his defense.

Kalaycı further raised questions over the origin of the attack helicopters by highlighting major contradictions in the indictment. According to witness and victim statements and a parliamentary commission’s findings, the firing by helicopters on the General Staff, the MIT compound and the Ankara police station were all reported to have taken place between 22:00 and 22:38 on July 15. However, according to a military report by an investigation commission at the Land Forces Aviation Command, the first utility helicopter took off from the base at 22:30 and the first attack helicopter left the base at 22:52.

That means the attack helicopters came from somewhere else. Considering that the MIT intelligence agency has its own attack helicopters, it is likely that MIT orchestrated the shootings to make it appear that the military helicopters did it but messed up the time logs. The various records with time stamps contradicted each other.


Maj. Rafet Kalaycı’s lawyer petitioned the General Staff to produce his client’s service records and reveal the the identity of the helicopters used in the putschist attempt:





Kalaycı concluded his defense statement by saying that it was clear that evidence was manufactured to make him look guilty after the brutal torture and abuse he suffered during detention at the hands of the police failed to force him to make a false statement incriminating himself.

The police abuse started in the patrol car as soon as he left the base in Izmir, two days after the failed attempt. Four police officers started beating him in the car while his hands were handcuffed from behind. His nose was broken, his clothes were soaked in blood. He passed out twice but was awakened only for the police to continue beating him. One officer even took a photo of him with his face partially covered in blood and shared it on the Internet. The police tried to wash his bloody face in a toilet bowl by holding him upside down by the legs in the bathroom of the hospital where he was taken for a medical checkup as required under the CMUK.

He was taken to a doctor with blood all over his body and his clothes soaking wet in the presence of three policemen. Kalaycı pleaded with the doctor to record the torture and abuse he had sustained thus far. The doctor asked the police to leave the examination room, but the police refused and ordered the doctor to write the report while they were present. The CMUK requires that a detainee undergo a medical checkup before questioning and that the doctor be left alone with the detainee during the examination in order to determine whether torture or abuse had taken place.

“I don’t know what kind of report the doctor wrote under the threat of the cops torturing me,” he said in the courtroom. He later learned that the doctor, apparently intimidated by the police, did not indicate any torture or beatings in her report. The abuse continued all night when he was put in a detention hall at the Izmir Police Department. The next day he was transported to Ankara, where a special “welcoming ceremony” was arranged at Esenboğa Airport. The police kept beating him at the airport police station immediately after he landed.


Before and after photos of Maj. Rafet Kalaycı, who received his first beating in a police car immediately after he was detained.


The next stop was the Ankara Police Department’s counterterrorism building, where he was stripped naked before entry into the sports hall. Five or six police brutally tortured him there for an hour until he passed out from the pain. He was revived and the torture continued, forced to lie face down on the floor as his registration papers were filled out. When he was finally taken inside the sports hall, he saw hundreds of naked men sitting on the bare floor, trembling from abuse and torture, their bodies bearing the marks of beatings and their eyes filled with fear.

He was made a special target practice for torturers. Every half hour a group of five or six police in civilian clothes came to torture Kalaycı. Two ribs and his jaw were broken by the end of the beatings, and he had to be taken to the Keçiören Teaching and Research Hospital on July 20. He had surgery on the broken jaw. Two days later, before his treatment was complete, the police rushed him back to the sports hall, put him in a room blindfolded and continued the torture until the next morning.

“Ten people in two shifts tortured me until 8 a.m. I was insulted with profanities. They tried to remove my nails with a tool. I don’t remember how many times I fainted and regained consciousness,” he recalled of his ordeal. The police told him that if he admitted being involved in the failed coup and a member of the Gülen movement — a group the government accused of instigating the coup, although the movement strongly denied having any role in it — the torture would stop. He was finally taken to court for arraignment on July 24. He told the judge about his ordeal of abuse and torture, but judge Melih Uçar ignored him and quickly ordered his imprisonment. He was sent to Sincan Prison.


Maj. Rafet Kalaycı was denied the opportunity to review the entire case file and evidence in the court papers:





When a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe-affiliated body, was in Turkey to conduct inspections between August 28 and September 6, 2016, Kalaycı was one of the vIctims who was able to tell his terrible saga to the CPT delegates. “The torture I was subjected to was recorded on September 3, 2016 during a visit by the CPT to the prison to assess the allegations of torture in our country,” he told the court.

The CPT delegation’s visit came amid widespread allegations first raised by Amnesty International, which stated that it had collected credible evidence that detainees in Turkey were beaten, tortured and on some occasions raped in official and unofficial detention centers across the country. However, the details of the CPT report were never made public because Turkey vetoed the publication of the report and has not lifted its objection since 2016. In fact CPT President Mykola Gnatovskyy stated in 2017 that even though he “[wanted] to discuss the findings,” he could not comment on the report due to Ankara’s decision.

Kalaycı complained about the false news reports that appeared in the pro-government media and said he and his family were viciously targeted. He accused officials of deliberately leaking details from the investigation file, which were supposed to be confidential until the indictment was filed, to frame him as guilty.

His wife, Özlem Tuğçe Kalaycı, a public hospital doctor, was dismissed from her government job without any administrative or judicial investigation. She was detained in November 2016 but released pending an investigation. While Maj. Kalaycı was still in custody, on July 21, 2016 the Sabah daily, owned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family, ran a false story about him, claiming that he took a leave of absence just for a coup when he had actually filed for vacation time eight or nine months earlier. The story, penned by Ceyhan Torlak, found the pilot guilty before he was even tried. His then-lawyer Berrin Akyol filed a petition with the General Staff requesting detailed information about his client’s job record, vacation time and the identity of the helicopters and pilots in a petition filed on September 2, 2016, but she received no response.

Most of the statements, apparently taken under torture to falsely identify him as a pilot who bombed targets in Ankara, were recanted during the court hearings. Kalaycı also explained in court that he was denied access to the evidentiary files while in prison, so he had to rely on the indictment alone to make his defense, hampering his right to present an effective defense. His lawyer brought printed copies of some documents from the case file for him to examine before the defense hearing, but those documents were seized by the prison authorities as well. At a hearing on December 22, 2017 his lawyer Hilal Kamacı complained about this practice to the court, but presiding judge Oğuz Dik claimed he was only responsible for sending documents to the prison.

Kalaycı and three other people filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office in the Kahramankazan district of Ankara for the torture and abuse suffered under custody, but the prosecutor ruled in 2018 that no documentary evidence such as a medical report existed to support the allegations. It was interesting that the complaint file included a photo of Kalaycı with his face covered in blood and his nose apparently broken, yet the prosecutor ignored the photographic evidence. He was ultimately convicted of coup plotting in December 2019, and judges under orders from the government sentenced him to serve 24 aggravated life sentences at the end of the proceedings.


Transcript of the arraignment of Maj. Rafet Kalaycı, who told the court about the torture, only to be ignored by the judge:



A major blunder the planners of the false flag made for the failed coup was to list events that took place in the early hours of July 16 before they actually occurred, confirming that the intelligence agency had planned several incidents to make the coup attempt appear real.

According to an official document written by Ankara public prosecutor Serdar Coşkun, who drafted indictments in coup trials, the events that unfolded on that night were known by Turkish authorities in advance. The document was dated July 16 and time-stamped at 1 a.m., three hours after the coup attempt began to unfold. Yet, the document mentioned events that took place after 1 a.m., which can only confirm that those events were actually planned in advance by operatives of the Erdoğan government, not the putschists. It also laid bare the fact that MIT wanted more blood to be shed during the chaotic events.

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