War of Independence and Crete

The Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1829.
Part II of the Greek Revolution.

naval battle of Navarino
The naval battle of Navarino with the destruction of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet by a British-French-Russian squadron decides the independence of Greece.

arrowHere to Part I: Greek Revolution.

The Greek War of Independence

The appearance of Mehmed Ali, Pasha of Egypt and actually a vassal of the Sultan in Constantinople, in 1824 marked the beginning of the third phase of the Greek Revolution.
Ali sought to overthrow the Sultan or gain independence while ostensibly joining him to secure his favor. The Turkish-Egyptian fleet anchored at Pylos in the Gulf of Navarino, while the Turkish-Egyptian army, reformed to French standards and under French officers, began drowning the Greek Revolution in blood. In 1826, after stubborn resistance, Missolunghi falls.

In the meantime, however, the political balance system in Europe had shifted. The three great powers, Great Britain, France and Russia, could not remain passive in the face of this rather unexpected development in Greece. Although the Austrian Metternich condemned the uprising against the Sultan’s legitimate rule, the new Tsar Nicholas I was favorably disposed toward it out of Orthodox kinship, hostility to the Turks, and because of the old Russian goal of reaching the Mediterranean. Then in 1827, in the Treaty of London, Great Britain, France and Russia advocate Greek independence.

The three Great Powers now tried to end the conflict without getting into military confrontations with the Ottomans, either on land or at sea. Even if the admirals of the Allied fleet did not have direct orders, their participation in the outcome of the naval battle of Navarino in 1827 was not so ‘accidental’.
The great powers, especially Great Britain, could not tolerate Egyptian domination under the influence of France in the eastern Mediterranean, as this would undermine the balance of power.

The battle of Navarino.
The battle of Navarino.
The sequence of events, as they appeared from the Turkish point of view, indicate that the Allied fleets had not entered the Gulf of Navarino merely to spend the winter, but with aggressive ulterior motives. Obviously, they had initiated the exchange of blows under the pretext that Ibrahim had not complied with what had been agreed, namely to remain inactive.
The stated goal, however, was to drive the Turkish-Egyptian fleet from the Peloponnese, or at least push it back, which was not possible under the explosive conditions. It took perhaps only an unplanned event to set off the chain reaction. It was followed by the destruction of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet by the British-French-Russian squadron.

The naval battle of Navarino was a decisive turning point for the Greek revolution. The path to Greek independence could hardly be stopped thereafter, for now the interests of the major European powers turned 180 degrees in favor of the Greeks. The death of the reluctant Tsar Alexander I and his succession by the more resolute Nicholas I in 1825, and later the fall of the British Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, in 1830, helped the Greek cause.

Grand Prince Kapoditrias became regent and established his own, Greek administration from Naupalia on the Peloppones. A French expeditionary force under Nicolas Joseph Maison arrived to reinforce the Greeks and liberated Morea.
In 1828-29 another Russo-Turkish war broke out, which ended under Prussian mediation in 1829 in the Peace of Adrianople (Edirne). As a result, Russia gains the Danube estuary and Greece as a protectorate.

At the London Conference of 1830, the ‘London Protocol’ is signed on February 3 with the independence of Greece, the Treaty of Constantinople and finally the Protocol of July 18 and August 3, 1832, which established the borders of Greece. However, for most Greek patriots it was clear that this could only be a first step, because more than half of the Greek population still lived outside these borders under the rule of the Sultan in Constantinople.

Entry of King Otto into Nafplio.
Entry of King Otto into Nafplio.
From the very beginning, the Greeks had tried to establish a democratic polity. They were not a band of robbers who wanted to take everything they could or enforce their laws at will, but from the beginning they organized a national movement with a moral and ideological background. Otherwise, they could not have won the widespread sympathy of large segments of the population in Europe and the United States for their struggle. Even the first constitution said that Greece would grant asylum to all those ‘who are persecuted because of their struggle for freedom’.

After the assassination of Grand Duke Kapodistrias, Otto I of Wittelsbach was elected king. Greece gets a constitution in 1844, but the absolutist rule of the Bavarian ‘Othon’ ends in his deposition in 1862.
Another consequence of the Greek revolution is the dissolution of the ‘Holy Alliance’ because of the opposition between Russia and Austria-Hungary in the ‘Oriental question’ and the interests in the Balkans.

The revolution in Crete

The famous Frangokastello on the south coast of Crete could be taken by freedom fighters in 1828, but then fell after a siege.
The revolution in Crete was declared as early as April 1821. The large island is located quite far from the rest of Greece, and therefore sending military help was difficult.
In addition, Crete was home to a sizable Muslim minority, which accounted for almost a third of the population. Despite these adverse circumstances, joining the revolution was raised at meetings with local leaders and dignitaries in Sfakia, and the decision to revolt was made there.
The Turks responded by hanging the bishop of Kissamos, imprisoning others, and continuing the persecution of clergy and laity in the region.

The first major victory of the insurgents occurred on June 14, 1821, in Chania, where a unit of Janissaries was defeated and its leader killed.
The Turks responded by looting and slaughtering civilians. However, fighting continued with victories by the Greeks in July 1821, but in August a powerful Ottoman force arrived at Sfakia. The Ottomans defeated the Sfakians and continued to commit atrocities and murder people.
But the rebellion did not stop. Dimitrios Ypsilantis, at the request of the Cretans, appointed Michael Komninos Afentoulief as the general commander of the revolution in Crete. Despite the failure of an attempt to capture Rethymno, the Greeks achieved victories in the region of Mylopotamos as well as in front of the fortress of Chania.

Petros Skylitsis Omiridis later arrived in Crete as a representative of the Greek central administration. A local assembly was held, the result of which was the institutionalization of the ‘Transitional Policy of the Island of Crete’ on May 21, 1822. Afentoulief, with his title of ‘Prefect General of the Island’, assumed the general leadership of the Greek revolution in Crete.

Milatos cave
In February 1823, 2,500 women and their children, together with 150 armed men from the surrounding area, fled to the Milatos Cave to escape Hassan Pasha’s army, which was camped near Neapoli. The latter sent out his brother-in-law Mohamed-Ali-Hushein-Bei together with 5,000 soldiers, who killed most of the fugitives after a 22-day siege.
In May 1822, an Egyptian fleet of many ships sailed for Souda. Several thousand infantrymen, consisting mainly of Albanian mercenaries, and several hundred horsemen, led by Hassan Pasha, landed on the island.
In their first clash with the Greeks, the Turkish-Egyptian army was defeated at Malaxa, but immediately afterwards the Greeks succumbed to the counterattack of the Ottomans, who were superior in armament and organization.

Similar to the internal disputes in the Peloponnese, disputes arose between the local leaders and Afentoulief, leading to Cretan exhaustion and waste from trivial internal conflicts. The Hydraean Emmanuel Tombazis replaced Afentoulief. Tombazis’ presence revived the revolution, especially in western Crete. The fortress of Kastelli (Kissamos) was taken.

This was followed by the siege of the fortress of Kandanos in Chania. However, this victory was overshadowed by the breach of the agreement made with the Turks, when Cretans attacked and killed many of the departing Muslims. This reprehensible act caused the Turks to no longer trust the assurances of the Cretans, and so they were no longer willing to surrender voluntarily.
In June 1823, another Egyptian fleet arrived and a large Egyptian army with French officers under Hussein Bey landed in Crete. The result was the suppression of the revolution in Crete.

Tombazis failed to unite the local leaders for joint action against the enemy, while it was not possible to bring in reinforcements from Greece. In the meantime, the Egyptians continued to suppress the revolution with great force as Hussein Bey marched against Messara and entered Rethymno.
In March 1824, Hussein moved to Sfakia, which was the heart of the revolution. The fall of Sfakia caused the morale of the inhabitants of many regions to collapse until they finally surrendered.
On April 12, 1824, the ‘Governor of Crete’, Emmanuel Tombazis, left the island. This was the end of the revolution in Crete. However, guerrilla fighting against the Egyptian-Turkish troops continued in the mountains with sporadic raids.

Cretan patriots who had fled to the Peloponnese subsequently asked the provisional Greek government for help in capturing the fortress of Imeri Gramvousa, a small rocky island at the western end of Crete protected only by a few guards.
In August 1825, three ships were dispatched and a few hundred men went ashore at Castelli (Kissamos) and occupied the area. The few Turkish guards of Gramvousa surrendered the fortress without a fight after a deception maneuver.

The absence of Egyptian troops and this success encouraged the Cretans to rise again. However, the lack of organization and unity among the insurgents prevented any real progress from being made.
The Greek government could provide only limited reinforcements, while the governor of Crete, Mustafa, was a stubborn opponent. After the fall of Messolonghi on the mainland, defeats and further disappointments followed. Despite all efforts, both by the Cretans themselves and by the Greek government, it was not possible to achieve a decisive victory in Crete.

Hatzimichalis Dalianis
Hatzimichalis Dalianis
In January 1828 there was another landing on the island by the epirote Hatzimichalis Dalianis with 700 men. The following March they took possession of Frangokastello, a castle on the south coast in the region of Sfakia. Soon the Ottoman governor of Crete, Mustafa Naili Pasha, attacked Frangokastello with an army of 8,000 men. The castle fell after a seven-day siege and Dalianis perished along with 385 men.

King Otto of Greece
King Otto, first king of Greece.
The later attempt of King Ludwig of Bavaria, for his second son ‘Othon’ as King of Greece, to extend the borders of the newly created state according to the London Protocol of February 3, 1830, to the line Arta – Volos, with the district of Akarnania and the islands of Crete and Samos, was only partially successful.
The great European powers opposed the annexation of Crete and Samos by Greece because of the resistance of the Sultan in Constantinople. In the case of Crete, complications were added by the Egyptian Mehmed Ali’s claims to it, which were also supported by France and Britain at the time.

Arkadi monastery
Arkadi monastery with its magnificent church in the center.
In 1862, King Otto of Greece was forced to abdicate, but despite tight coffers, he used his entire annual income to finance a shipment of weapons from his Bavarian exile in 1866 to the Cretans, who were again in revolt against Ottoman rule. This uprising also failed and its landmark today is the then besieged Arkadi Monastery near Rethymno and November 9 is a national holiday in Crete.

Thus, Crete had to wait until 1898 for its independence and the annexation to Greece took place only after the First Balkan War in 1913.

References and literature

dtv-Atlas Weltgeschichte (Band 2 – Von der Französischen Revolution bis zur Gegenwart)
THE GREEK REVOLUTION OF 1821: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom (Vassilios Moutsoglou)
The Greek Revolution: A Critical Dictionary (Paschalis M. Kitromilides)
Die Unabhängigkeit Griechenlands (Ruben Ygua)

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