Flag of Cretan State 1898 AD/CE to 1913 AD/CE

Capital: Chania

Continent: Europe

Official Languages: Greek, Ottoman Turkish

Established: 1898 AD/CE

Disestablished: 1913 AD/CE



n February 1897, the Great Powers decided to restore order by governing the island temporarily through an "Admirals Council" consisting of admirals from the six powers making up the International Squadron. Through naval bombardments of Cretan insurgent forces, by placing sailors and marines ashore to occupy key cities, and by establishing a blockade of Crete and key ports in Greece, the International Squadron brought organized fighting on Crete to an end by the end of March 1897, although the insurrection continued. Soldiers from the armies of five of the powers (Germany declined to send any) arrived to occupy key Cretan cities in late March and April 1897. Thereafter, the Admirals Council focused on a negotiated settlement that would bring the insurrection to an end without bringing Ottoman governance of Crete to an end, but this proved impossible. They then decided that Crete would become an autonomous state under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. Germany strongly opposed this idea and withdrew from Crete and the International Squadron in November 1897 and Austria-Hungary followed in March 1898, but the remaining four powers carried on with their plans.

On 6 September 1898 (25 August 1898 according to the Julian calendar then in use on Crete, which was 12 days behind the modern Gregorian calendar during the 19th century), a Cretan Muslim mob massacred hundreds of Cretan Greeks and murdered the British vice-consul, his family, and 14 British soldiers and sailors, in the city of Candia (modern Heraklion). As a result, the International Squadron and the occupying forces ashore expelled all Ottoman forces from Crete in November 1898. The autonomous Cretan State, under Ottoman suzerainty, garrisoned by an international military force, and with its high commissioner provided by Greece, was founded when Prince George of Greece and Denmark arrived to take office as the first high commissioner (Greek: Ὕπατος Ἁρμοστής, Hýpatos Harmostēs), effectively detaching Crete from the Ottoman Empire, on 21 December 1898 (9 December according to the Julian calendar). The Admirals Council was dissolved on 26 December 1898.

On 13 December 1898, Prince George of Greece and Denmark arrived as high commissioner for a three-year tenure. On 27 April 1899, an Executive Committee was created, in which a young, Athens-trained lawyer from Chania, Eleftherios Venizelos, participated as minister of justice. By 1900, Venizelos and Prince George had developed differences over domestic policies, as well as the issue of Enosis, the union with Greece.

Venizelos resigned in early 1901, and for the next three years, he and his supporters waged a bitter political struggle with the Prince's faction, leading to a political and administrative deadlock on the island. Eventually, in March 1905, Venizelos and his supporters gathered in the village of Therisos, in the hills near Chania, constituted a "Revolutionary Assembly", demanded political reforms and declared the "political union of Crete with Greece as a single free constitutional state" in a manifesto delivered to the consuls of the Great Powers. The Cretan Gendarmerie remained loyal to the Prince, but numerous deputies joined the revolt, and despite the Powers' declaration of military law on 18 July, their military forces did not move against the rebels.

On 15 August, the Cretan Assembly voted for the proposals of Venizelos, and the Great Powers brokered an agreement, whereby Prince George would resign and a new constitution created. In the 1906 elections the pro-Prince parties took 38,127 votes while pro-Venizelos parties took 33,279 votes, but in September 1906 Prince George was replaced by former Greek prime minister Alexandros Zaimis and left the island. In addition, Greek officers came to replace the Italians in the organization of the Gendarmerie, and the withdrawal of the foreign troops began, leaving Crete de facto under Greek control.

A Constitution was promulgated in February 1907, but in 1908, taking advantage of domestic turmoil in Turkey as well as the timing of Zaimis' vacation away from the island, the Cretan deputies declared unilateral union with Greece. The flag of the Cretan State was replaced by the Greek flag, all public servants took an oath to King George I of Greece, and the Greek constitution and laws were enacted on the island. This act was not recognized internationally, including by Greece, where Eleftherios Venizelos was elected prime minister in 1910. In May 1912, the Cretan deputies travelled to Athens and tried to enter the Greek Parliament, but were forcibly prevented from doing so by the police.

Upon the outbreak of the First Balkan War, Greece finally recognized the union and sent Stephanos Dragoumis as the island's governor-general. The Great Powers tacitly recognized the fait accompli by the act of lowering their flags from the Souda fortress on 14 February 1913, and by the Treaty of London in May 1913, Sultan Mehmed V relinquished his formal rights to the island.

On 1 December, the formal ceremony of union took place: the Greek flag was raised at the Firka Fortress in Chania, with Eleftherios Venizelos and King Constantine I in attendance. The Muslim minority of Crete initially remained on the island but was later relocated to Turkey under the general population exchange agreed to in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne between Turkey and Greece.