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Ottomans vs. Cretans - 1888

The island of Crete was a small one, with a population of a little over 300,000 in the late 19th Century. The villages in the interior were very scanty of population, and the most populous places were scattered along the coast. Of the population of the island 270,000 were Christians and 50,000 Mahomedans. These people were intensely irritated and estranged from each other.

The year 1878 witnessed another insurrection, in which the usual barbarities were committed on both sides. Eventually the Cretan chiefs applied for the mediation of England; and under the auspices of the consul, the convention known as the Pact of Halepa was drawn up in the suburb of Canea which bears that name, under the auspices of Mr Sandwith, the British, consul, and Adossides Pasha, both of whom enjoyed the confidence of the Cretan population. The privileges conferred by the Organic Statute were confirmed; the cumbersome and extravagant judicial and administrative systems were maintained; the judges were declared independent of the executive, and an Assembly composed of forty-nine Christian and thirty-one Mussulman deputies took the place of the former general council. A parliamentary régime was thus inaugurated, and party warfare for a time took the place of the old religious antagonism, the Moslems attaching themselves to one or other of the political factions, which now made their appearance among the Christians. The material interests of the island were neglected in the scramble for place and power; the finances fell into disorder, and the party which came off worst in the struggle systematically, intrigued against the governor-general of the day and conspired with his enemies at Constantinople.

The privileges obtained by the Halepa Pact relieved the Cretans from a large part of that grinding tyranny that is exercised by the "unspeakable" Turk in all other parts of his dominions, except Samos, but only to introduce the evils of a parliamentary regime among a people utterly unprepared for it. Political parties now sprang up in the Cretan Assembly, — "Liberals" and "Conservatives" so called, — for no other visible reason than that there must be two opposing factions, each struggling for the upper hand in the administration. Political life thus became a scramble for the sweets of office, and the party which was beaten in the Assembly habitually conspired against the governor-general with his enemies at Constantinople, and in many cases with the Mohammedan military governor, who invariably aspired to supersede his Christian chief.

In this warfare of factions the Mussulman Cretans took part almost as eagerly as their Christian kinsmen, not, however, as a distinct party, but divided pretty equally between the two camps. In fact, this political grouping might have had a most salutary effect in tending to obliterate the old religious hatred, had the Cretans as a people possessed the self-restraint essential to the working of parliamentary institutions. As it was, party strife absorbed the attention of the Cretans, to the exclusion of all thought on the material improvement of the island or the development of its abundant resources.

The next crisis occurred in 1889, under Sartinski Pasha, a governor of Polish extraction. The Conservatives, who had long been in power, having lost their majority, the governor conceived it to be his duty, according to constitutional principles, to bestow a number of appointments on the Liberals. The Conservatives replied by taking up arms and withdrawing to the mountains. Many of the native Mussulman beys, or landed aristocrats, clung to the Conservative party even after this departure from Canea; but once the insurrection was lighted, the old half-dormant religious fanaticism became inflamed on both sides.

Though the outbreak was unconnected with the religious feud, the latent fanaticism of both creeds was soon aroused, and the island once more became a scene of pillage and devastation. During the Cretan rebellion, which began in 1889 and lasted two years, the most horrible atrocities were committed, and the greatest sufferers were the Mussulmans. For every church destroyed three or four mosques were wrecked, and for every Christian murdered, three or four Mussulmans were murdered. Many of the atrocites in Crete were manufactured in Athens. The tales told about the roasting of priests in Crete were absolute fictions.

Unlike the two preceding movements, the insurrection of 1889 resulted unfavorably for the Christians. What the Christians had won in the way of political privileges through the two preceding insurrections the movement of 1889 destroyed for the greater part. The Porte acted for once with promptitude, and, as ever, with true Turkish duplicity. Aware that the Cretans invariably take the watchword from Athens, the Ottoman government besought M. Tricoupis, who was then at the head of Greek affairs, to persuade the insurgents not to resist the occupation of the important strategical posts in the island by the Turkish troops. Tricoupis, strangely unsuspicious of Asiatic perfidy, complied with the request without exacting any guaranty for the Porte's good faith; and the latter, once master of the situation, repaid him with the imperial firman of November, 1889, whereby the Pact of Halepa was well-nigh completely abrogated.

Martial law was proclaimed throughout the island; Shakir Pasha, a Mussulman and a soldier, was appointed both civil and military governor; the number of deputies in the Assembly was reduced in a way which strengthened the Mussulman wing out of all proportion to the population; elections were henceforth to be on the indirect (elector) system; and the whole of the island's customs revenue, which since 1887 had been divided equally between the imperial and the Cretan treasuries, was now appropriated by the Porte. The protests of Greece and of the Cretans against this reactionary arrangement were unavailing. Turkish troops and Albanian gendarmes, quartered in every village, held the island in utter subjection; and for the next five years Crete was ruled autocratically, and without any assembly, by a succession of Mohammedan governors.

From 1890 Crete was frequently the scene of disturbance; the Christian communities in other parts of Turkey began to chafe under the attempted curtailing of their privileges; about Christmas 1893 the Greek patriarch caused all the Orthodox churches to be closed as a protest; and the Armenian agitation entered upon a serious phase. Elections under the new system were, indeed, ordered; but the Christians refused to go to the polls, and it was not till 1895 that this attitude of uncompromising protest was relaxed, when the powers persuaded the Porte to nominate a Christian governor in the person of Alexander Karatheodory, hitherto Prince of Samos.

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