It all began when Turkey's leaders thought they could build a Sunni belt under Turkish hegemony, and resting geographically under the Crescent and Star. For that to actually happen, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq had to be ruled by Sunni -- preferably Muslim Brotherhood-type -- leaderships subservient to Ankara.
This Turkish gambit came at a time when the turbulent Middle East was even more turbulent than it always is: the Arab Spring had unmasked a 14-century-long hatred between Islam's two main sects, a schism started by rival clans in the Prophet Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh. This is a feud that would survive beyond even their imagination.
Syria, with which Turkey shares a 500-mile border, was sadly being ruled by a Nusayri (Syrian Alawite), an offshoot of the Shia faith. Bashar al-Assad soon became, as the Sicilians say, "a stone in (then Prime Minister, now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's shoe."
In the background, the Sunni-Shia feud was heating up. The Turks failed to get the message. In 2013, Iraq's acting defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, accused Turkey of controlling Sunni anti-government protests in (Shia majority) Iraq.
For some time the United States even toyed with the idea of creating a "moderate crescent" of Sunni nations in order to contain Shia Iran, Shia-controlled Iraq and Lebanon's Hizbullah.
The sectarian blindness explained a lot of complexities: Why, for instance, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia fiercely supported the Syrian opposition, or sent troops across the border into neighboring Bahrain to help stamp out a Shia uprising there; why al-Qaeda's leaders called on jihadists to join the fighting in Syria; or why, for Erdoğan, al-Assad was the "butcher of Damascus," while Sudan's Sunni leader Omar al-Bashir, with an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and the killing of hundreds of thousands, was "just an innocent friend." The hatred explains, even to this date, why the Shia and Sunnis in Iraq kill each other by the thousands every month and bomb each other's mosques.
The Wahhabis are virulently anti-Shia, and vice versa. They view the Shia as satanic "rejectionists." And, for their part, the Shia view the Wahhabis as simply perverted. For each sect the other is "not even Muslim." Saudi schools teach pupils that Shi'ism is simply a Jewish heresy.
In 2006, senior Wahhabi cleric Abdul Rahman al-Barrak released a fatwa which stated that the Shia are "infidels, apostates and hypocrites ... [and] they are more dangerous than Jews or Christians." Al-Qaeda's younger twin, al-Nusrah, declared in 2012: "The blessed operations will continue until the land of Syria is purified from the filth of the Nusayris and the Sunnis are relieved from their oppression."
The Sunni supremacist Erdoğan would therefore even shake hands with Satan for the downfall of the Nusayri al-Assad. And he did. Turkey quickly became the mentor of all Syrian opposition groups which, ideally, would first defeat al-Assad, then form an Islamist government and volunteer to become a de facto colony of the emerging Turkish Empire.
At the outset, Turkey's support was about policy and planning: conference after conference, meeting after meeting, declaration after declaration. The innocent Turks were merely expending diplomatic efforts to end the bloody civil war in a neighboring country.
In reality, Ankara slowly made Turkey's southeast a hub for every color of radical Islamist militant arriving from dozens of different countries, including thousands from Europe. The militants would cross the border into Syria, fight al-Assad's forces, go back to Turkey, get medical treatment there if necessary, replenish their weapons and ammunition and go back to fight again. In an audio recording leaked on the internet in March, Turkey's top intelligence officer admits that, "Turkey has so far sent 2,000 trucks full of weapons and ammunition into Syria."
Last June, Turkey's own Frankenstein monster, who went by the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] -- later reflagged as "The Islamic State" [IS] -- appeared at its old master's doors. IS attacked the Turkish consulate compound in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, after having captured large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory. It also took 49 Turks, including the consul general, hostage.
Ironically, only a day before the attack on the Turkish consulate, an opposition parliamentarian, speaking in parliament, warned that the consulate was exposed to the risk of an attack from ISIS -- to which the government benches replied loudly: "Stop telling lies!" And only 20 hours before the Turkish consulate was attacked, Turkey's then-Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, tweeted that "We have taken all precautions at the Mosul consulate general."
The hostages are still in captivity. So is Turkey, strategically and militarily. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Ankara on Sept. 8 to discuss a joint methodology to fight IS, and asked the Turks what services they could offer, the most important Turks in Ankara, including Erdoğan, shyly looked in the air and explained why they could not actively or publicly engage IS. And so 49 unfortunate Turks are still in the hands of the Turkish Frankenstein.
More than two years ago Davutoglu prophesized that al-Assad's days in power were numbered. In a span of weeks, he predicted, the "butcher of Damascus would go." But there is another man who can compete with Davutoglu in any "Realistic Guesses on the Future of the Middle East" competition. At the end of 2011 when the last US troops left Iraq, President Barack Obama described Iraq as "sovereign, stable and self-reliant."
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.