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GREEK NEWS

Crete Celebrates Union with Greece On December 1st

Greek King George and Eleftherios Venizelos at the union celebration. Credit: Public Domain

On December 1st, 1913, the island of Crete was officially integrated into the Greek state, after exactly one month earlier, Sultan Mehmet V had relinquished all sovereignty over the island.

Crete’s liberation from Ottoman rule was a violent struggle that lasted close to a century and cost a great deal of blood to gain, as Cretans joined Greece’s War of Independence on June 14, 1821, according to most historians.

However, on Sunday, December 1, 1913, the official announcement of the union took place in a festive atmosphere in sunny Chania, in the presence of King Constantine and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.

That day, the white and blue, alongside Byzantine flags, was hoisted across the city and  the whole island. Incredibly, this marked was the first time that a Greek king had landed on the island since Byzantine Emperor Nikiforos Fokas, who reigned from 963-969, and who had kicked the Arabs out of Crete.

According to the Athenian newspaper Estia’s correspondent from Chania, the events culminated at 11:50 in the morning, when veteran fighters Anagnostis Mantakas, 94, and Hatzimichalis Giannaris, 88, raised the Greek flag at the Firkas fortress, to the booms of 101 cannons fired off by Greek warships in celebration.

Crete fell into the hands of the Ottomans on October 4, 1669, when their army entered Chandakas (present-day Heraklion), putting an end to 465 years of Venetian rule, which had lasted from 1204-1669.

Despite the fact that many fled the island, Cretans never really knuckled under to their new rulers. Two uprisings in the following decades, the “Movement of 1692” and the “Revolt of Daskalogiannis” in 1770, failed; but they nevertheless they showed the Ottomans that Cretans did not accept their rule them there.

In 1821, the Cretans joined mainland Greece in the national uprising, but their efforts did not succeed, due to the large number of Ottomans and Ottoman Cretans on the island and the lack of armament.

Still, uprisings against the conqueror continued with undiminished intensity. In 1833 it was the “Movement of Mournia”; in 1841 the “Revolt of Hairetis and Vasilogeorgis”; in 1858 the “Movement of Mavrogenis”; and in the 1866-1869 the “Great Cretan Revolution” took place.

And the unrest went on, with the “Revolution of 1878”; the “Revolution of 1889”; and the “Revolution of 1897-1898”, when Crete finally gained its autonomy with the blessing of the Great Powers, after the shocking atrocities committed by the Ottomans in Heraklion on August 25, 1898.

On November 2, 1898, the last Ottoman soldier left the Cretan territory.

It was that year when Crete came under the protection of both the Great Powers and only the high sovereignty of the Sultan. A separate Cretan state was established from 1898 to 1913, with Greek King George as Commissioner and a government consisting of five Christians and one Muslim — since in 1900 about 25 percent of the island’s inhabitants were Muslim.

The dominant political figure of that period was a young lawyer by the name of Eleftherios Venizelos, who soon came into conflict with King George. The “Revolt in Therissos” on March 10, 1905, organized by Venizelos, forced the Greek King to resign from power and hand over the high commission to Greek politician Alexandros Zaimis.

The main demand of the insurgents was the immediate union of Crete with Greece.

Greece’s victory in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) that many attribute to  the insightful policies of Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, accelerated these political developments. On May 30, 1913, the Sultan signed away all his rights to Crete with the Treaty of London (Article 4), while with a special treaty he resigned his sovereignty on the island, on November 1, 1913.

Finally, Crete was free and its union with Greece had become a reality at last.

In 1923, with the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the last Muslims left Crete, most of whom settled on the shores of Asia Minor. From then on, Crete became an integral part of Greece, despite a rumor saying that in 2013 — 100 years from the 1913 treaty — a secret article stipulated that the island could secede from Greece and become  independent.

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