Ottoman Crete

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Eyālet-i Girīt
Province (eyalet/vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire

Location of Crete
Crete within the Ottoman Empire in 1895
Capital Heraklion (Candia), Chania
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 •  Established 1646
 •  Treaty of Constantinople 1898
 •  1876[2] 7,800 km2 (3,012 sq mi)
 •  1870[1] 280,000 
 •  1876[2] 220,000 
Density 28.2 /km2  (73.1 /sq mi)
Today part of  Greece
Veli Pasha mosque in Rethymno

The island of Crete (Ottoman Turkish: گریتGirīt)[3] was declared an Ottoman province (eyalet) in 1646, after the Ottomans managed to conquer the western part of the island as part of the Cretan War,[4] but the Venetians maintained their hold on the capital Candia until 1669, when Francesco Morosini surrendered the keys of the town.[4] The offshore island fortresses of Souda, Granbousa, and Spinalonga would remain under Venetian rule until in 1715, when they too were captured by the Ottomans.[4]

Crete took part in the Greek War of Independence, but the local uprising was suppressed with the aid of Muhammad Ali of Egypt. The island remained under Egyptian control until 1840, when it was restored to full Ottoman authority. Following the Cretan Revolt of 1866–69 and especially the Pact of Halepa in 1878, the island received significant autonomy, but Ottoman violations of the autonomy statutes and Cretan aspirations for eventual union with the Kingdom of Greece led to the Cretan Revolt of 1897–98 and the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. Despite an Ottoman victory in the war, Crete became an autonomous state in 1898 because of intervention in favor of Greece by European powers and was united with Greece after the Balkan Wars.


During the Cretan War (1645–1669), Venice was pushed out of Crete by the Ottoman Empire. Most of the island fell in the first years of the war, but the capital Candia (Heraklion) held out during long siege which lasted from 1648 to 1669, possibly the longest siege in history. The last Venetian outposts, the island fortresses of Souda, Gramvousa and Spinalonga, fell in the Ottoman–Venetian War of 1714–1718.

Rebellions against Ottoman rule

There were significant rebellions against Ottoman rule, particularly in Sfakia.

Daskalogiannis was a famous rebel leader. who in 1770 led a heroic but foredoomed revolt, which did not get the aid from the Russians who instigated it (see Orlov Revolt).

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and Cretan participation was extensive. An uprising by Christians met with a fierce response from the Ottoman authorities and the execution of several bishops, regarded as ringleaders. Between 1821 and 1828, the island was the scene of repeated hostilities. The Muslims were driven into the large fortified towns on the north coast and it would appear that as many as 60% of them died from plague or famine while there. The Cretan Christians also suffered severely, losing around 21% of their population. During the great massacre of Heraklion on 24 June 1821, remembered in the area as "the great ravage" ("ο μεγάλος αρπεντές", "o megalos arpentes"), the Turks also killed the metropolite of Crete, Gerasimos Pardalis, and five more bishops.[5]

As the Ottoman Sultan, Mahmud II, had no army of his own available, he was forced to seek the aid of his rebellious vassal and rival, Muhammad Ali of Egypt, who sent an expedition to the island. In 1825 Muhammad Ali's son, Ibrahim, landed in Crete and began to massacre the majority Greek community.[6]

Britain decided that Crete should not become part of the new Kingdom of Greece on its independence in 1830, evidently fearing that it would either become a centre of piracy as it had often been in the past, or a Russian naval base in the East Mediterranean. Rather than being included in the new Greek state, Crete was administered by an Albanian from Egypt, Mustafa Naili Pasha (known as Mustafa Pasha), whose rule attempted to create a synthesis of Muslim landowners and the emergent Christian commercial classes.

Though subsequent Greek nationalist historiography has portrayed the Pasha as an oppressive figure, as reported by British and French consular observers, he seems to have been generally cautious, pro-British, and to have tried harder to win the support of the Cretan Christians (having married the daughter of a priest and allowed her to remain Christian) than the Cretan Muslims. In 1834, however, a Cretan committee was set up in Athens to work for the union of the island with Greece.

In 1840, Egypt was forced by Palmerston to return Crete to direct Ottoman rule. Mustafa Pasha angled unsuccessfully to become semi-independent Prince of Greece but the Christian Cretans instead of supporting rose up against him, once more driving the Muslims temporarily into siege in the towns. An Anglo-Ottoman naval operation restored control in the island and Mustafa Pasha was confirmed as the governor of the island, though under command from Constantinople. He remained there until 1851 when he was summoned to Constantinople, where though of relatively advanced age (his early fifties) he had a successful career, becoming Grand Vizier several times.

After Greece achieved its independence, Crete became an object of contention as the Christian part of its population revolted several times against Ottoman rule. Revolts in 1841 and 1858 secured some privileges, such as the right to bear arms, equality of Christian and Muslim worship, and the establishment of Christian councils of elders with jurisdiction over education and customary law. Despite these concessions, the Christian Cretans maintained their ultimate aim of union with Greece, and tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities ran high. Thus, in 1866 the great Cretan Revolt began.

The uprising, which lasted for three years, involved volunteers from Greece and other European countries, where it was viewed with considerable sympathy. Despite early successes of the rebels, who quickly confined the Ottomans to the northern towns, the uprising failed. The Ottoman Grand Vizier A'ali Pasha personally assumed control of the Ottoman forces and launched a methodical campaign to retake the rural districts, which was combined with promises of political concessions, notably by the introduction of an Organic Law, which gave the Cretan Christians equal (in practice, because of their superior numbers, majority) control of local administration. His approach bore fruits, as the rebel leaders gradually submitted. By early 1869, the island was again under Ottoman control. The island was made a vilayet with a special status with a firman dated 18 September 1867.[2]

During the Congress of Berlin in the summer of 1878, there was a further rebellion, which was halted quickly by the intervention of the British and the adaptation of the 1867-8 Organic Law into a constitutional settlement known as the Pact of Halepa. Crete became a semi-independent parliamentary state within the Ottoman Empire under an Ottoman Governor who had to be a Christian. A number of the senior "Christian Pashas" including Photiades Pasha and Kostis Adosidis Pasha ruled the island in the 1880s, presiding over a parliament in which liberals and conservatives contended for power. Disputes between the two powers however led to a further insurgency in 1889 and the collapse of the Pact of Halepa arrangements. The international powers, disgusted at what seemed to be factional politics, allowed the Ottoman authorities to send troops to the island and restore order but did not anticipate that Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II would use this as a pretext to end the Halepa Pact Constitution and instead rule the island by martial-law. This action led to international sympathy for the Cretan Christians and to a loss of any remaining acquiescence among them for continued Ottoman rule. When a small insurgency began in September 1895, it spread quickly, and by the summer of 1896 the Ottoman forces had lost military control of most of the island.

The new uprising led to the dispatch of a Greek expeditionary force to the island, culminating in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, in which Greece suffered a heavy defeat. The Great Powers forced the Greek army to abandon the island.

But the Ottoman troops too were forced to depart a year later. Rural Turks and Bashibazuks (irregular Turkish troops), goaded by the appointment of Stylianos M. Alexiou as the first Christian director of the Revenue Service, on 25 August 1898, as the new clerks were on their way to start work in the town customs house, attacked them and the British detachment escorting them. A Turkish mob rapidly spread throughout the town, as Cretan Greek houses and shops were pillaged and buildings were torched, particularly in the area then known as Vezir Çarşı, the modern-day 25 August Street. Around 700 Cretan Greeks, 17 British soldiers and the British Consul in Crete were killed. The Great Powers ordered the immediate execution of the Turkish ringleaders of the riots. In the wake of this massacre, the Great Powers were persuaded that all Turkish influence on Crete had to cease. On November 3, under the orders of the Powers, the Turkish troops started to withdraw from the island, marking the end of 253 years of Ottoman rule.[7] Crete was placed under international occupation and a new Cretan State, autonomous but under the suzerainty of the Sultan, was established.[8]


Map of Crete, around 1861. Turks (Muslims) are in red, Greeks (Christians) in blue. The Muslim population of the island (Cretan Turks) left with the population exchange between Greece and Turkey.

One result of the Ottoman conquest was that a sizeable proportion of the population gradually converted to Islam, with its tax and other civic advantages in the Ottoman system. Contemporary estimates vary, but on the eve of the Greek War of Independence as much as 45% of the population of the island may have been Muslim.[9] A small number of these were crypto-Christians who converted back to Christianity; others fled Crete because of the unrest. By the last Ottoman census in 1881, Christians were 76% of the population, and Muslims (usually called "Turks" regardless of language, culture, and ancestry) only 24%, but Muslims were over 60% in the three large towns on the north coast and Monofatsi. Christians were 93% of the population in 1923 of the districts of Crete. The remaining Muslims were transferred to Turkey in the population exchange by religion between Greece and Turkey. .[10]

Administrative divisions

Administrative division of Crete until 1827

Sanjaks of Ottoman Crete in the 17th century:[11]

  1. Sanjak of Hanya
  2. Sanjak of Resmo
  3. Sanjak of Selene

Sanjaks, circa 1876:[12]

  1. Sanjak of Hanya
  2. Sanjak of Resmo
  3. Sanjak of Kandiye
  4. Sanjak of İsfakya
  5. Sanjak of Laşit


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  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, p. 157, at Google Books By Gábor Ágoston, Bruce Alan Masters
  5. Dr. Detorakis, Theocharis "Brief Historical Review of the Holy Archdiocese of Crete"
  6. Peacock, A History of Modern Europe, p. 220
  7. Kitromilides M. Paschalis (ed) Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trials of Statesmanship, Edinburgh University Press, 2008 p. 68
  8. Enosis: The Union of Crete with Greece
  9. Excerpts from William Yale, The Near East: A modern history by (Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1958)
  10. A. Lily Macrakis, Cretan Rebel: Eleftherios Venizelos in Ottoman Crete, Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1983.
  11. Narrative of travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the ..., Volume 1, p. 90, at Google Books By Evliya Çelebi, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall
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