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Ottomans vs. Cretans - 1866

After the battle of Navarino Crete made a fresh effort for liberty under Kallergis. This event does not seeem to have a standard name, as various resources refer to it as an the Crete Insurrection, Uprising, or Revolution. Once more the Moslems were driven back into the three walled towns, and were on the point of abandoning the island when Europe decided to hand it over to Mehemet Ali, viceroy of Egypt, who promptly invested it with a large army. The Egyptian regime was at first a relief to the suffering Cretans, for order was restored, political organization was introduced, and the privileged position of the Mussulman minority was abolished.

But Mehemet's barbaric instincts for oppression and extortion soon got the better of his dread of Christian Europe, and the result was the revolts of 1833 and 1840, which he suppressed with an iron hand; yet he was forced to restore the island to his suzerain the Sultan. Another insurrection followed in 1858, which was ended only by the promise of reforms—this marking the beginning of that outrageous Turkish game of reformpromising which has caused untold misery in Crete, as in Armenia, and will continue to do so as long as Turkish duplicity is tolerated by six great Christian powers.

The promises made in 1858 were never fulfilled. This brought on the insurrection of 1866-9, which cost the tyrants $27,000,000, and was perhaps the bloodiest Cretan revolt in this century. After a period of great distress and cruel oppression, in 1866, on the demand for reforms being again refused, a general insurrection took place, which was only put down by great exertions on the part of the Porte.

One of the most noteworthy, though not strategically important, events of this struggle was the tragic catastrophe at the monastery of Arkadi, where about 200 insurgents, with 800 women and children, were besieged by a Turkish army of 23,000 men; and after the walls had been battered down by the Turkish artillery, and the place carried by assault, the besieged blew up themselves and their victors by igniting their powder-magazine. Of the Christians only 100 remained alive, while the Turks lost over 2000 men. They lost another 10,000 on two expeditions into the interior against Theriso and Sphakia; and Omar Pasha, who succeeded Mustapha as generalissimo, lost another 25,000 men in a couple of months' campaigning in the Sphakia district.

The elastic system of warfare adopted by the Cretans — namely, drawing the Turks into mountain passes and then smiting them hip and thigh — worked so admirably that at the close of 1867 the Turks were practically confined to the three walled towns. By sea a squadron of thirty Turkish war-ships maintained a blockade, which three fast Greek steamers found no difficulty whatever in running, making regular weekly trips back and forth between Greece and the island, and landing arms, supplies, and volunteers within sight of the Turkish ships.

Finally, however, Hobart Pasha, an Englishman in the Turkish service, tightened the blockade so effectually that little support from outside could reach the insurgents. The insurrection bubbled slowly away. The Grand Vizier himself came over to Crete, and the Cretans were persuaded to barter away the strong prospect of union with Greece for a measure of local self-government. This was followed by the concession of additional privileges to the Christians of the island and of a kind of constitutional government and other reforms embodied in what is known as the “Organic Statute” of 1868, which proved a veritable Nessus gift to the unfortunate Cretans.

Cretan constitutional history may be said to date from 1868, when, after the suppression of an insurrection which had extended over three years, the Turkish government consented to grant a certain measure of autonomy to the island. The privileges now accorded were embodied in what is known as the Organic Statute, an instrument which eventually obtained a somewhat wider importance, being proposed by Article XXIII of the Berlin Treaty as a basis of reforms to be introduced in other parts of the Ottoman empire. Various privileges already acquired by the Christian population were confirmed; a general council, or representative body, was brought into existence, composed of deputies from every district in the island; mixed tribunals were introduced, together with a highly elaborate administrative system, under which all the more important functionaries, Christian and Mussulman, were provided with an assessor of the opposite creed. The new constitution, however, proved costly and unworkable, and failed to satisfy either section of the population.

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Page last modified: 03-09-2016 14:46:11 ZULU