Antiqua Print Gallery Cretan Revolt 1866-69
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Cretan Revolt 1866-69

The Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869 was the most important of a series of Cretan uprisings against Ottoman rule.


The Christian Cretans had risen up together with the rest of Greece in the Greek Revolution of 1821, but despite successes in the countryside, the Ottomans held out in the four fortified towns of the northern coast (Chania, Rethymno, Irakleio and Agios Nikolaos) and the island was eventually reconquered by 1828, becoming an Egyptian province. In 1840, Crete was returned to the Ottoman Empire, followed by an unsuccessful 1841 uprising in support of Union with independent Greece. Another uprising in 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 and family law. These concessions were resented by the Muslim community, while the Christians pressed for more, while maintaining their ultimate aim of Union with Greece.


As tensions ran high in the island, and several petitions to the Sultan went unanswered. Armed bands were formed, and the uprising was officially proclaimed on August 21, 1866. The revolt caused immediate sympathy in Greece, but also elsewhere in Europe. The rebels initially managed to gain control of most of the hinterland although as always the four fortified towns of the north coast and the southern town of Ierapetra remained in Ottoman hands.


One particular event caused strong reactions among the liberal circles of western Europe, the "Holocaust of Arkadi". The event occurred in November 1866, as a large Ottoman force besieged the Arkadi Monastery, which served as the headquarters of the rebellion. In addition to its 259 defenders, over 700 women and children had taken refuge in the monastery. After a few days of hard fighting, the Ottomans broke into the monastery. At that point, the abbot of the monastery set fire to the gunpowder stored in the monastery's vaults, causing the death of most of the rebels and the women and children sheltered there. As reported by the American writer and consul William Stillman and others over the recently introduced telegraph, this event caused enormous shock in the rest of Europe and in North America and decreased the perceived legitimacy of Turkish rule.


Because the loss of Crete might have been the prelude to a much more serious loss of Ottoman territory in the Balkans, the Ottoman Grand Vizier, A'ali Pasha, arrived in the island in October 1867 and remained there for four months. A'ali Pasha was a man of exceptional intelligence and personal dignity whose qualities impressed even observers who were usually hostile to the Ottomans such as Stillman. A'ali set in progress a low profile district by district reconquest of the island followed by the construction of blockhouses or local fortresses across the whole of it. These were the basis of continued Turkish military rule until the final crisis of 1896-1898. More importantly, he designed an Organic Law which gave the Cretan Christians equal (in practice, because of their superior numbers, majority) control of local administration. He thus gained the minimum of political cooperation needed to retain control of the island by early 1869 and almost all the rebel leaders had submitted to Ottoman rule though some, notably the pro-Russian Hadjimichaelis, remained in exile in Greece.

(Source Wikipedia)