When Today's Zaman told the anonymous whistleblower Fuat Avni in a direct message on Twitter that the editorial team had chosen him person of the year, the mysterious account replied: “Person of the year? Is this a joke?”
Given the impact of Fuat Avni in Turkish politics and society in the wake of a massive corruption investigation that was made public on Dec. 17, 2013, it is only natural to think of this virtual character as the person of the year. Today's Zaman will refer to Fuat Avni as “he” since he claims that he is male. By now, Fuat Avni is known to almost everyone in Turkey and has gained quite a reputation in world media since his tipoffs about the government's unlawful actions have generally turned out to be true.
Following his several tipoffs about both police investigations and the redesigning of the judiciary under the instructions of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pro-Erdoğan media have argued that this account is a result of teamwork within the bureaucracy, even calling Fuat Avni a “consortium.” As recently as last weekend, a pro-government daily argued that Fuat Avni had been identified and that the person who created the account and the person that uses it are two different people. In response Fuat Avni on Sunday denied and even mocked arguments that his account is managed by more than one person. Instead, he further challenged Erdoğan, who he refers to as “Tyrant,” arguing that it was Erdoğan who ordered the bombing of Kurdish civilians in Uludere in 2011 despite the warning of military intelligence.
Given the accuracy of his wide-ranging insights about the judiciary's system, police force, economy and foreign policy, Erdoğan has argued that Fuat Avnı must be a member of his close team, and some even argue that Fuat Avni cannot be a real person. There have been rumors that Fuat Avni is actually a “jinn” that is able to be present in more than one place at once. “Please tell your readers that I am not a jinn,” Fuat Avni wrote Today's Zaman, adding a smiley face at the end of his message.
This mysterious account, whose user is probably on Erdoğan's “most wanted” list given the damage he has done to the government by disclosing its unlawful practices, currently has over 735,000 followers on Twitter under the user name @fuatavnifuat. His original account, @fuatavni, had reached over 1 million followers before it was blocked by court order on Aug. 5, 2014. Fuat Avni is notorious for defying Erdoğan by ending many of his tweets with the phrase “Don't fear, tremble,” which is a reference to the warnings of a religious scholar to his students when asked about hell. When Fuat Avni's first account was closed by the government, he did not change course and instead kept defying Erdoğan directly: “My account with you will not be settled like this. Do not fear, tremble.”
Usually sharing messages in Turkish, Fuat Avni has an account in English (@FuatAvniEng) with over 24,000 followers. He says that he receives interview requests not only from domestic media, but also from international press through Twitter. In popular Internet forums, Fuat Avni is one of the hottest topics, with hundreds of pages written about him and his tipoffs about the government.
His most recent accurate report was about the crackdown on media on Dec. 14 which directly targeted the Zaman media group, including Today's Zaman. Hours before the detention of Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Fuat Avni tweeted tipoffs about the operation, along with the names of the police officers, prosecutors and others who would conduct the operation allegedly ordered by Erdoğan. Indeed, Fuat Avni originally tweeted about a possible operation on Dec. 12, with the names of the journalists on the detention list, but he said hours later that the operation was to be delayed. Not surprisingly, world media saw the value of this news, and BBC reported a story based on the arguments of Fuat Avni, while Foreign Policy published an article about him. Pro-government circles were quick to criticize world media for taking Fuat Avni seriously, but his record only increases his credibility, since he not only tipped the public off about a police operation on July 22 targeting journalists and police chiefs who had conducted corruption investigations involving senior people in Turkey, but also about vote rigging in the local elections of March 30, as well as Erdoğan's tactics for his public relations campaign. Fuat Avni argued that a women would fake a faint and go back to normal when Erdoğan touched her -- this exact incident took place at one of Erdoğan's rallies when he was prime minister. However, Fuat Avni has not always turned out to be right. When he argued that former Prime Minister Erdoğan threatened the mayor of the city of Aydın, Özlem Çerçioğlu, of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), she denied Fuat Avni's claim.
When asked what the most important event that he prevented was, Fuat Avni told Today's Zaman that he cannot be the best judge of this, while underlining that he will continue tipping off the public about the unlawful acts of the government until those who are involved in corruption and unlawfulness are brought to court.
Is Fuat Avni a government-led project?
Expectedly, Fuat Avni has been subject of much speculation, particularly about his identity and his purpose. While many believe that he is a sympathizer of the Hizmet (Gülen) movement and is supporting them as Erdoğan continues to wage war against this grassroots movement, Fuat Avni understandably refrains from giving clues about his personal life or background. Some still claim that Fuat Avni is actually columnist Emre Uslu, while others even claim that he is Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, though the latter claim sounds quite nonsensical.
A young journalist named Emre Erciş recently claimed that Fuat Avni is a government-led project to use in a future investigation against the Hizmet movement. According to his logic, the government will argue that Hizmet is an illegal network, by providing examples of the correspondence between Fuat Avni and people affiliated with the Hizmet movement. When Erdoğan deliberately tried to bankrupt Bank Asya due to its ties to Hizmet, Fuat Avni wrote that there were several banks in fragile condition and if Bank Asya was bankrupted, he would name them publicly. Fuat Avni uses this example to deny claims that his account is a government-led project, telling Today's Zaman that he would not have tweeted about eight banks in poor financial condition just to prevent the sinking of Bank Asya by the government.
Regardless of his identity or affiliation, Fuat Avni is clearly one of the biggest problems for the government. Many wonder how the state apparatus is unable to identify him. Fuat Avni says that as someone whose life is at stake, he knows how to take precautions.
Despite all the depressing news Fuat Avni continues to reveal, he does not hesitate to instill hope in the people, telling them that "bright days are just around the corner."
Published on Today's Zaman, 30 December 2014, Tuesday