A Turkish army pilot who was away from home on an assignment with NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan was falsely charged by Turkish authorities with participating in an aerial campaign that took place during a failed coup in 2016.
The official documents obtained by Nordic Monitor reveal that army officer Bayram Taşbaşı, who served as a senior advisor for the NATO mission in Afghanistan from January 15, 2016 to August 10, 2016 was accused of joining the mobilization in the air and piloting an aircraft on the night of the coup on July 15, 2016. Taşbaşı was stationed in Afghanistan in the month of July and was ordered to report to his commanding officer back in Turkey on August 10, 2016. He took a flight next day to Istanbul, where he was detained upon arrival at the airport.
The false accusations reinforce the view that the putschist attempt was nothing but a false flag operation orchestrated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his intelligence and military chiefs for political goals. Taşbaşı is certainly not the only one who was jailed on fabricated charges in the Turkish military but represents one of the most clear-cut cases on how the government framed unsuspecting military officers as part of the scenario that created a pretext for a massive purge of pro-NATO officers from the alliance’s second largest army in terms of manpower. Taşbaşı could not be in both places, some 3,000 kilometers away from each other, at the same time, yet according to Turkish prosecutors and military investigators he managed to pull that off. If you believe it, that is.
Taşbaşı had an impeccable record in the military until he was falsely accused of attempting to overthrow the government in 2016; he never faced any probe nor received any punishment. He was raised by the military after he entered an army high school in 1986. When he graduated with honors from the military academy in 1990, he was a young lieutenant in an army air unit. He was trained as a pilot and his performance brought him many awards and citations including a purple heart for his display of courage. He returned to the flight school in 1998 and started training new recruits until 2006, when he again was deployed to the field in Malatya province, where he piloted aircraft.
He was the assignments officer for the War Support Unit when the Land Forces commander selected him to serve in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission. He took up the assignment on January 15, 2016 and was expected to serve for a year in Kabul. The Land Forces Command issued a recall order for him on August 9, 2016, some four weeks after the putschist attempt in Turkey. He received his orders the next day and got on a flight to Turkey on August 11, 2016. By that time a wave of arrests in the military had already started, and he was aware of the risks. But he nevertheless thought he wouldn’t be held accountable for an event that took place on July 15 because he was in Kabul serving with the NATO mission.
In fact, one gendarmerie officer who was also recalled while serving in Kabul did not return and travelled to a Western country to seek asylum. Taşbaşı could have done the same but chose to not to. He was wrong. When the plane landed at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the police detained him for a day before shipping him to the western province of Izmir. There was no evidence against him except testimony from secret witness who turned out to be his schoolmate, Col. Mehmed Esad Özormancık, who had harbored hostility against him for years. The investigating prosecutor did not bother looking into his case file and referred him to judge Dilek Celiktas for arraignment, and he was formally arrested on August 13, 2016. A week later, the Ministry of Defense dismissed him from the army.
He spent seven months in jail before he was indicted on April 20, 2017 and managed to get a copy of the charging documents and evidence, which included only a defamatory statement from his rival in the army. The Izmir 2nd High Criminal Court ruled to release him pending trial on June 16, 2017. But his troubles got more complicated when a separate investigation was launched into him by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office under case file No. 2017/114444. The military crimes section of the prosecutor’s office accused him of being among the pilots who flew aircraft on the night of the coup, bombing various locations and transporting putschists.
The basis for the charges was a military report drafted by the former unit Taşbaşı served in before he was deployed to Afghanistan. The report, commissioned by the Land Forces assignments department, claimed Taşbaşı flew an airplane on the night of the failed coup and destroyed and lost inventory in the course of events. The report specifically mentioned that a pilot’s helmet which was under the control of the assignments department went missing. It further stated that Taşbaşı’s involvement was determined by a judicial investigation, and as a result he was dismissed from the military and imprisoned. The report was filed on July 14, 2017 and signed by Majors Sedat Yerlikaya, Süleyman Kıvrakoglu and Mahmut Taşkan. It was approved by Col. Hüseyin Yılmaz.
This false memo could have easily been refuted if authorities had really wanted to find out where he was at the height of the coup attempt. The daily roll call kept at the Turkish unit in Kabul shows him as present there at the time that investigators claimed he was flying aircraft in Turkey. His colleagues who served with him in Kabul could have easily verified this fact as well as the police department, which detained him at the airport upon his arrival some four weeks after the coup. Defending himself against this false charge in a statement he gave to the police on November 2, 2017, Taşbaşı said before he departed for Afghanistan, he handed over his helmet and flying gear to the Army Air School Maintenance Unit, where they were kept in the inventory. He said his gear was used by somebody else while he was out of the country and that the blame was laid on him.
Yet, nobody appears to be hearing the voice of Taşbaşı, who was victimized and accused of crimes he did not commit. He was also charged with belonging to the Gülen movement, to which he denied having any association. The prosecution also did not include any evidence suggesting that he was affiliated with the movement other than a slanderous statement by a discredited secret witness. His case is still pending.
The movement is a vocal critic of the Erdoğan regime on a range of issues from rampant corruption in the government to Erdoğan’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups. Erdoğan labelled the movement as a terrorist group in the aftermath of corruption investigations in 2013 that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and business and political associates. The movement, which has no connection to violence or terrorism, is a civic group active in education, charity and interfaith dialogue. It is led by Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar who denied Erdoğan’s claims that he ordered the coup attempt. The government has so far failed to present any direct evidence linking the cleric to events during the coup.
The excerpts from defense statement submitted by Taşbaşı is posted below: