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Historical Observations: The Massacre of Heraklion, September 1898

January 29, 2022

The massacre of Christians in Canea-Chania and the failure of the Ottoman government to implement reforms in Crete led to a rebellion by the Cretans who sought union with Greece in January 1897. There were previously failed uprisings in 1841, 1858, 1866, 1889, and 1895.

In response, the Greek government dispatched troops and its navy to Crete, which earned the ire of the major European powers. Its mission was the restoration of law and order and “not to leave the Cretan people at the mercy of Mussulman fanaticism, and of the Turkish army, which has always intentionally and by connivance, been party to the acts of aggression against the Christians.”

An international naval squadron of the European powers (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Austria, and Italy) was dispatched to protect Canea (Chania) in Crete. The powers opposed the Greek annexation of Crete and insisted that Greece withdraw its troops and naval forces from the island. Furthermore, the powers didn’t want a European war over Crete.

On March 17, 1897, the powers granted their permission to the Admirals that Cretan autonomy would be provided on the proviso “that it should not go into any detail as to the constitution to be granted to them, but simply state as regards their internal affairs they will be entirely free from the control of the Porte.” Out of this emerged the Admirals Council which effectively made them the power brokers in Crete.

The Admirals drew up proposals for coercive measures to be adopted in the event the Greek government failed to comply with the demand to withdraw their troops. The Greeks had no choice but to comply with the demands of the Admirals by eventually withdrawing their troops from Crete in May 1897.

To implement their measures, the Admirals Council divided the island into five sections with each power responsible for its area. I.e. the Austrians sent 300 troops to Kastelli, Kissanos, and Selino; 300 Germans went to Suda and 300 Russians to Rethymno; 500 British soldiers were sent to Candia (Heraklion), 300 French to Sitia and Spinalongou, and 300 Italians to Ierapetra. The Germans and Austrians withdrew their troops in November 1897 and March 1898 for the former had drawn closer to the Ottoman empire.

While German/Austrian withdrawal seriously weakened the Admirals Council, the other four powers continued to maintain their troops in their assigned areas. A combined Anglo/French force was responsible for Canea and Suda. The Admirals did everything in their power to ensure that law and order were strictly maintained and permitted a supply of provisions to reach the towns of the interior. In January 1898, the British Admiralty replaced Admiral Harris with Rear Admiral Noel.

On May 25, 1898, the European powers agreed to the establishment of an executive committee that was nominated by the Cretan Assembly. This committee included: Eleftherios Venizelos, Ioannis Zacharakis, Ioannis Sfakianakis, Emmanouil Mylogiannakis, Nikolaos Giamalakis, and Antonis Hatzidakis. It was to be of a provisional character that would keep in contact with the Admirals and was subject to removal by the Admirals if it exceeded its authority. The committee administered territory under the authority of the Cretan Assembly, whereas the Admirals exercised direct authority in the districts occupied by European troops.

The Admirals discussed the issue of the financing that was needed to fund the administration of Crete, which also required the approval of the powers. A 3% tax on exports was to be collected from Customs Houses put under British control. Muslim officials were replaced by Christians which angered the former. The French, British, Russian, and Italian governments considered “the formation of an International Syndicate of Bankers of the four countries, who would make the necessary advances, and as a security would be authorized to collect the whole of part of the 3% Customs surtax.” The powers authorized the Admirals to implement this measure.

Andrew L. Calokerinos, the U.S. Consular Agent, wrote a report of the massacre in Candia on September 10, 1898. An excerpt of his report reads:

“On September 6, 1898, by order of the Admirals’ Council the Commander of the British troops of occupation here, Col. F. Reid, accompanied by 2 patrols of about 50 men went down to the Quay to establish in their office the newly appointed Christian officials to collect the tithe of the agricultural products to be delivered to the provisional government. Just at the same time, thousands of Muslim Bashis rushed down to the harbor with arms where the dime office was situated. Col. Reid being informed, ordered a British picket to take possession of the harbor gate. Major Churchill, a Turkish officer, Chief of the International Police here, left the port and went to Mutessarif Edhem Pasha and though three hours of continual fighting had been taking place between the Bashis and English troops and bluejackets, HMS Hazard shelled several parts, only at 5.30 PM Edhem Pasha came down and dispersed the Moslems so that the British troops were enabled to be embarked on the British steamboat Turquoise. Casualties among the British were 15 killed and 42 wounded; Muslims were unknown.

“At the same time bands of Muslims were setting fire to the Christian shops from the harbor’s gate to the arsenal and about 200 shops were burned, among them Georgiadis Bros (U.S. Citizens) and Sophocles were murdered (Georgiadis). Several of my stores as well as the English, German, and Spanish Vice-Consulates were burned. The British Vice-Consul, my father was killed and many of my relatives’ moveable property as well.

“The Admirals are intending to ask for the complete disarmament of the Muslims, the withdrawal of the Turkish troops, and the punishment of many culprits. In Candia, more than 600 Christians were massacred and many were distinguished individuals. Only about 350 were saved and embarked for Greece.”

An International Military Commission in Candia sentenced the Muslim culprits to death for the murder of the British VC (Lysimachos Calokerinos) and others for armed rioting. The sentences were ratified by the Admirals’ Council on November 5, 1898. The last of the Ottoman troops left Crete forever, paving the way for the arrival of Prince George of Greece as Governor-General, a process which would eventually result in the island’s union with Greece in 1913.

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