The Cretan Question, 1897-1908.


Insurrection in Crete early in 1897 led directly to the Greco-Turkish War of that year. The Greeks, beaten by German-trained Turkish troops, called on the powers, who, before mediating, demanded that Cretan autonomy under Turkish suzerainty instead of the annexation of the island by Greece, be accepted by the Greek Government. Greece submitted.

The heads of the Cretan insurrection, although with great reluctance, also accepted the idea of the autonomy of Crete. While the powers found difficulty in settling peace terms and in securing a governor for Crete, the admirals, despite trouble caused by the presence of Turkish troops, restored order and introduced reforms.

2. SETTLEMENT OF 1898-1899.

In April, 1898, Germany and Austria left the European concert on the Cretan question because of their growing interest in Turkey and withdrew their ships from the blockade. Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy thereupon divided Crete into four departments which they severally administered, Canea being occupied by a joint force. The powers urged the departure of the Turkish troops, who were still troublesome. Turkey, having delayed with characteristic subterfuges, finally yielded, and on November 28, 1898, the last Turkish troops left Crete.

On November 26, 1898, largely at the suggestion of Russia, the powers having scoured Europe for a Cretan governor acceptable to all, invited Prince George of Greece to be high commissioner of the powers in Crete for three years. He accepted, the blockade was soon raised, and December 21, 1898, he landed on the island. The admirals having handed over the government to him, requested their own recall, and only a few foreign troops and the stationnaires remained. The Cretan flag was raised. Tranquillity followed, but Moslems departed in great numbers, the 4900 census showing them only about one-ninth of the population, as against about one-third in 1881.

In April, 1899, a constitution drafted by Venizelos and presented by a constitutional assembly, was promulgated, according to which foreign affairs were to be determined by the representatives of the four protecting powers at Rome.


In 1899 things seemed to go well, but soon trouble developed. The Cretans were restless under Turkey; some wanted complete independence; some annexation to Greece (the stronger movement) ; many were at odds with the administration, which they charged with extravagance, inefficiency, and neglect.

Further annexationist appeals were made to the powers, who, though determined to maintain peace and the status quo (especially Germany and Austria, desirous of humoring Turkey, to advance their interests and hinder those of Russia), and fearing the opening of the Balkan question, still felt that that question must be solved.

The situation between prince and deputies became very strained in 1904. The unpopularity of Prince George was due to the fact (1) that his repeated attempts (1900-1904) failed to influence powers toward annexation, and (2) that he unwisely seemed to take measures toward perpetuation of the existing arrangement, regarded by Cretans as only temporary. Differences developed between his partisans and those of Venizelos, who, now a popular hero, became head of the insurgent movement. Naturally opposed to autonomy, he gradually yielded to it as a “further stage toward the realization of the national ideal.”


In July and August, 1904, at the request of the Cretans, Prince George again appealed to the powers for annexation to Greece. The powers refused (April, 1905), and the revolutionary movement gained full sway. Union with Greece was again proclaimed. On July 30, 1905, the powers put Crete under martial law and international troops occupied the chief cities.

In November, 1905, Venizelos conferred with the consuls of the powers who granted concessions, but refused to alter the status quo. Fighting stopped (July-September, 1906); Prince George resigned, claiming unwillingness to rule under new conditions. but really forced thereto by insurgents.

King George, asked by the powers to nominate a Greek subject, designated M. Zaimis as high commissioner. Order was restored. The powers failed to solve the Cretin question fast enough for the Cretans.


In May, 1908, the powers announced that soldiers would gradually be withdrawn when order should be assured, and began withdrawal on announcement from M. Zaimis that order was guaranteed.

The Young Turk revolution at Constantinople, July, 1908, was followed by stirring events in the Balkans (on October 5, the proclamation of Bulgarian independence, and on October 7, the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). On October 7, also, Crete proclaimed union with Greece (ratified by Chamber October 12). M. Zaimis had left Crete October 3 “provisionally,” and in his absence the Cretan Chamber appointed an executive commission (including Venizelos) to govern in the name of King George till Greece should take charge. Turkey protested. On October 28, 1908, the powers, declining either to recognize or repudiate the union, and anxious to allay the resentment of the Young Turks on the one hand and the ardor of Greek unionists on the other, promised that the matter would be made the subject of negotiations with Turkey, provided order was maintained and the rights of Moslems respected.

The close of 1908 left the matter in this anomalous situation.

Source: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.

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