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Hellenic-Ottoman War - 1897

The troublesome Cretan question finally caused a short war between Greece and Turkey in the spring of 1897, which ended very disastrously for Greece. Greece was resolved to wrest Crete from Turkey and annex that island to herself; while the Great Powers of Europe were just as determined that she should not seize the island, as they feared that such action would give full vent to the pent-up annexation passion among the new Balkan states of Bulgaria, Servia and Montenegro, thus bringing about a general European war. Preparations for war were going on rapidly in Greece itself; and, unfortunately,the Greek government was encouraged to persevere in its rash course by various alien influences, especially by a portion of the Radical party in England.

At the beginning of 1897 the Christians and Mohammedans were arrayed against each other in hostile camps, the Christians occupying the interior of the island and the Mohammedans holding possession of the coast towns. Bloody conflicts, pillage, massacres and assassinations occurred daily; and the assembled warships of the Great European Powers found great difficulty in forcing the hostile elements in the island to keep the peace, while the European ambassadors at Constantinople were unable to induce the Sultan of Turkey to consent to any satisfactory arrangement.

Early in February, 1897, the plans of the Greek agitators in Athens — the Ethnike Hetairia and their supporter, Prime Minister Delyanni —were matured fully; and King George was forced or persuaded to give his consent to overt action. The occasion was a bloody conflict between the Christians and the Mohammedans in the streets of Canea, the chief town of Crete; the Mohammedans being aided by Turkish soldiers. Amid the wildest popular enthusiasm in Greece, Prince George, son of the King of Greece, left the Piraeus for Canea, with a flotilla of eight torpedo—boats and with a transport, and landed a considerable force of Greek troops under Colonel Vassos, who announced that he had come to take possession of Crete for his father, King George of Greece. The divided counsels of the allied Powers prevented them from taking concerted action to prevent the Greek soldiers from landing, and the matter was compromised. The Greek troops landed at Canon and promptly joined the insurgents on the hills; whereupon the foreign warships landed a detachment of four hundred and fifty men, who at once occupied Canea to prevent a hostile encounter between the Greeks and the Turks.

On March 2, 1897, the allied Powers came to an agreement upon united action, and they delivered an ultimatum to the Ottoman and Hellenic governments, saying that the Powers had agreed upon concerted action with the object of putting an end to a situation which it did not rest with them to prevent, but the prolongation of which would be calculated to compromise the peace of Europe. The ultimatum ac— cordingly declared that Crete could not be annexed to Greece under existing circumstances, and that, in view of Turkish delays, the Powers, while maintaining the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, were resolved to confer an absolutely—effective autonomous regime upon Crete, in tended to assure the island a separate government under the high suzerainty of the Sultan. The ultimatum allowed the Greek government six days to withdraw its ships and troops, saying that if Greece refused to comply with this demand the Powers were irrevocably determined to hesitate at no measure of compulsion.

Greece refused to withdraw her troops from Crete; while the Ottoman Porte announced its willingness to adopt the recommendations of the Great European Powers for the establishment of autonomy in Crete, thus ingeniously putting itself in the right. A series of exciting incidents occurred in Crete, where the allied forces sought to prevent a collision between the Turkish and Greek troops. Five hundred men-of-war’s men, led by the British consul, Sir A. Biliotti, rescued about two thousand persons in the town of Candano. Despite the efforts of the allied forces in Crete to prevent a collision between the Greeks and the Turks, there was general fighting and mutual destruction of property for a long time.

In the meantime the greatest enthusiasm prevailed in Greece itself. The reservists went manfully to their colors; and by the end of March, 1897, a large Greek army was massed on the frontier, ready to invade Turkish territory, the Crown Prince of Greece having been appointed commander-in—chief of the Greek forces and having established his headquarters at Larissa, in TheSsaly. The Turks were energetically pushing forward their preparations more effectively, though the newspapers mentioned very little about them; and the ordinary reader did not then comprehend what he realized a month afterward—that the reorganization of the Turkish army by German officers had progressed with such efficiency that the Turks had a finely-disciplined army of seven hundred thousand men to crush the Greek army of only two hundred thousand, the Turkish military organization including such matters as the efficient working of military railways and other means of rapid mobilization.

On the eve of the outbreak of war the Great Powers of Europe addressed a note to both the belligerent nations warning them that the aggressor would be held responsible for the consequences and would not be permitted to derive the slightest advantage from his hasty action; but this note did not have the slightest effect upon the belligerents, whose armed forces were now within striking distance of one another. The only appreciable effect the warning note of the Great Powers may have had was that of holding back Edhem Pasha’s army until he was actually attacked. The war did not actually break out before April 17, 1897, when the Greek Minister in Constantinople received his passports, when hostilities at once broke out on the Greco-Turkish frontier.

A fierce battle, lasting one full night and one whole day, was fought for the command of the Maluna Pass, between Elassona and Larissa. The Greeks fought well, but the tide of battle was against them from the beginning. The Turks advanced at all points, captured the Greek position and drove the Greek army down into the plain of Thessaly. About the same time fighting occurred in and about the Gulf of Arta, where the Greek fleet and the western division of the Greek army had better success for a time and were soon able to advance into Epirus. But to the great disappointment of the Greek invaders, they were not supported by risings in Epirus and in Macedonia, as they had been promised by their leaders.

The loss of the Maluna Pass was followed by a series of Greek defeats. The Hellenic troops fied in disorder, abandoning a large quantity of arms and ammunition. As Larissa was indefensible the Crown Prince of Greece was obliged to retreat to Pharsala and Velestino; Pharsala being the ancient Pharsalia, famous as the site of the great battlefield which made Caesar master of the Roman world by his decisive victory over his rival, Pompey. The Greek retreat before the Turks soon became a stampede, and the Greeks lost all their previous courage and became thoroughly demoralized. The enterprising newspaper correspondents at the seat of war made the Greek retreat from Mati to Larissa instantly famous.

A few days after the Greek flight from Larissa, King George of Greece dismissed Prime Minister Delyanni from office and appointed M. Ralli as his successor, the new Prime Minister being supposed to be in favor of peace. Ralli’s first act was to recall Colonel Vassos from Crete, but for a time at least he determined to continue the war.

At the beginning of May there was severe fighting at Velestino, where the Greeks under Colonel Smolensky, the only Greek officer who gained a reputation during the war, fought well and held their ground; while in Epirus, after much blundering and aimless fighting, the Greek army of eleven thousand men evacuated its strong position, retreated from Epirus and returned to Arta. After the battle of Velestino the Turks attacked Pharsala and were repulsed, May 5, 1897; but during the night the Crown Prince of Greece retreated to Domokos, where there was some more fighting; and on May 8th the Turks captured Volo, so that the Greeks were beaten all along the line.

As the Greek government recalled its troops from Crete on the very day of the capture of Volo, May 8, 1897, there was no longer any obstacle to the intervention of the Great Powers of Europe, whose mediation Was offered on May 11th and was accepted at once by the belligerents. Long and tedious negotiations at Constantinople followed between the Turkish government, represented by Tewfik Pasha, and the ambassadors of the Six Great Powers of Europe. Sultan Abdul Hamid II proved to be a typical Oriental sovereign, both in government and in diplomacy; and these peace negotiations can be regarded as his masterpiece. Beginning by professing the utmost moderation, he soon amazed the ambassadors of the Six Great Powers as well as all Europe by asking an indemnity of ten million pounds sterling (equal to fifty million American dollars); the cession of Thessaly by Greece to Turkey; the abolition of the Capitulations affecting Greek subjects in Turkey, also an extradition treaty.

Finally, after exactly four months of negotiation, the Peace of Constantinople was concluded, by which Sultan Abdul Hamid II. accepted an indemnity of four million pounds sterling (equivalent to twenty million American dollars) as an indemnity from Greece, to secure the payment of which an international financial commission was to be appointed at Athens; the treaty also providing for a rectification of the Thessalian frontier giving Turkey some strategical advantages, also for the appointment of negotiators who were to settle the terms of various consular and other conventions between Turkey and Greece. Greece accepted the terms of this treaty of peace, in spite of the indignation of ex—Prime Minister Delyanni and his supporters; and thereafter the conditions of the treaty were observed fairly by both nations, whose respective plenipotentiaries settled the other points at issue.

The negotiations put a serious strain upon the European concert, and it was often very difficult for Lord Salisbury to agree to the proposals of Germany, which generally were thought to be extremely harsh. In laying the treaty before the Greek Chamber of Deputies, Prime Minister Ralli accused Germany of being responsible for the most humiliating conditions for Greece; and there was no doubt that he was right in his accusation. Although no vote of the Greek Chamber of Deputies could nullify the treaty of peace, the irrepressible Delyanni proposed a vote of want of confidence in the Ralli Ministry, and this proposal was adopted by a vote of ninety-three to seventy—one; whereupon the Ralli Ministry resigned and was succeeded by a new Ministry under Zaimis, a member of Delyanni’s party. Thenceforth the Thessalian refuges returned slowly to their homes, but very little was done to improve the condition of affairs in Crete. Several suitable governors were suggested and almost accepted, but finally some hitch would necessitate the repetition of all the negotiations.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2022 20:25:06 ZULU