The Cretan Question, 1908-1913.


The years of 1906 to 1912 witnessed a signal exhibition of the inability of the powers to decide upon an enforceable policy in regard to Crete.

During this period, at first, the affairs of Crete were controlled by a concert of six powers, but soon Germany and Austria withdrew, leaving England, France, Italy, and Russia in charge. Germany and Austria then began cultivating a closer connection with Turkey.


From December 21, 1898, till 1906, Prince George of Greece ruled Crete under direction of Russia, Italy, France, and England. When he resigned the four nations asked him to appoint a high commissioner in his stead. He chose Zaimas, a Greek, who governed till October, 1908, when, upon the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria and the declaration of Bulgarian independence, the Cretans proclaimed a union with Greece. Turkey, of which Crete was a nominal possession, at once protested to the powers. Negotiations dragged along.


During the period October, 1908, to October, 1912, the status in Crete was more than ever anomalous. The Cretan Assembly had proclaimed the union of the island with Greece. The Greek Government was anxious for annexation, but did not dare to proclaim it for fear of offending the powers. They, in turn, were unable to agree, upon a settled line of policy as to the Cretan question. Meanwhile the Turkish Government, under the sway of the Young Turks, was pursuing a vigorously hostile policy toward all Greeks on account of the Cretan situation. In 1909 the powers announced that they would withdraw their garrison from the island, but would keep four warships in its waters, at the same time warning Greece not to annex Crete and Crete to maintain its autonomous government under a high commissioner. During the year there was considerable rioting at Canea, and it was necessary at one time for an allied force of marines to land and pull down a Cretan flag from over Canea. In 1910 the sentiment for union with Greece had become so earnest that four additional warships were sent to the island by the protecting powers. To the demand of the Cretans for union the powers answered that no negotiations would be taken up till the Cretans had established a stable government. Turkey, in the meantime, was requesting of the powers that they settle the Cretan question. In 1910 the Cretan officers were required by their Government to take an oath of allegiance to Greece. This the Moslems refused to do, and the powers threatened to land troops and take possession. The Cretan Government lost control of the situation almost completely in 1911, but the powers still held that it was not a propitious time to settle the fate of the island and ordered the status quo maintained. Early in 1912 the Cretans elected delegates to the Greek Assembly, but these were prevented from sitting by the interposition of Great Britain acting for the powers.


Finally, on the outbreak of the First Balkan War, Cretan delegates were seated, October 12, 1912, in the Greek Assembly. Cretan independence was formally acknowledged by the Treaty of London, May 30, 1913, the island being ceded by Turkey to the Balkan allies. Neither the Treaty of Bucharest, at the end of the Second Balkan War, nor the Treaty of Athens, signed by Turkey and Greece on November 14, 1913, contained any express mention of Crete, but the signing of the treaties amounted to a virtual recognition on the part of Turkey and all the Balkan States that Crete had become an integral part of the Kingdom of Greece. Recognition of the fait accompli by the powers was finally obtained in December, 1913.

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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