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THE CRETAN PROBLEM

It was this Cretan question, even more than the Macedonian question, which in 1897 had driven Greece, single-handed and unprepared, into a war with Turkey in which she was destined to meet speedy and overwhelming defeat. It was this same "accursed Cretan question," as Mr. Venizelos called it, which now drew the country into a military alliance against her Ottoman neighbor who, until too late, refused to make any concession either to the just claims of the Cretans or to the conciliatory proposals of the Greek government.

Lying midway between three continents, the island of Crete has played a large part both in ancient and modern history. The explorations and excavations of Sir Arthur Evans at Cnossus seem to prove that the Homeric civilization of Tiryns and Mycenae was derived from Crete, whose earliest remains carry us back three thousand years before the Christian era. And if Crete gave to ancient Greece her earliest civilization she has insisted on giving herself to modern Greece. It is a natural union; for the Cretans are Greeks, undiluted with Turk, Albanian, or Slav blood, though with some admixture of Italian. The one obstacle to this marriage of kindred souls has been Turkey. For Crete was taken from the Venetians by the Turks in 1669, after a twenty years' siege of Candia, the capital. A portion of the inhabitants embraced the creed of their conquerors, so that at the present time perhaps two-thirds of the population are Christian and one-third Moslem. The result has been to make Crete the worst governed province of the Ottoman Empire. In Turkey in Europe diversity of race has kept the Christians quarreling with one another; in Crete diversity of religion plunges the same race into internecine war as often as once in ten years. The island had been the scene of chronic insurrections all through the nineteenth century. Each ended as a rule with a promise of the Sultan to confer upon the Cretans some form of local self-government, with additional privileges, financial or other. But these promises were never fulfilled. Things went from bad to worse. The military intervention of Greece in 1897 led to war with Turkey in which she was disastrously defeated. The European Powers had meantime intervened and they decided that Crete should be endowed with autonomy under the sovereignty of the Sultan, and in 1898 they appointed Prince George of Greece as High Commissioner. Between the political parties of the island and the representatives of the Powers the Prince, who worked steadily for the welfare of Crete, had a difficult task, and in 1906 he withdrew, his successor being Mr. Zaimis, a former prime minister of Greece. The new commissioner was able to report to the protecting Powers in 1908 that a gendarmerie had been established, that tranquility was being maintained, and that the Moslem population enjoyed safety and security. Thereupon the Powers began to withdraw their forces from the island. And the project for annexation with Greece, which had been proclaimed by the Cretan insurgents under Mr. Venizelos in 1905 and which the insular assembly had hastened to endorse, was once more voted by the assembly, who went on to provide for the government of the island in the name of the King of Greece. I have not time to follow in detail the history of this programme of annexation. Suffice it to say that the Cretans ultimately went so far as to elect members to sit in the Greek Parliament at Athens, and that Turkey had given notice that their admission to the chamber would be regarded as a casus belli. I saw them on their arrival in Athens in October 1912, where they received a most enthusiastic welcome from the Greeks, while everybody stopped to admire their picturesque dress, their superb physique, and their dignified demeanor. If Mr. Venizelos excluded these delegates from the chamber he would defy the sentiments of the Greek people. If he admitted them, Turkey would proclaim war.



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