History of Crete – The Twentieth Century – To Greece and 2 World Wars
As Crete moved into the 20th century, with her own Assembly being presided over by Prince George of Greece, there were still many unresolved issues that needed addressing before the island could feel properly satisfied. In the, jointly Christian and Muslim, Cretan Assembly Turkey was still a force to be reckoned with and the Assembly was still answerable to the ‘Great Powers’: Britain, France, Italy and Russia. Unity with Greece was the dream of most Cretans and, to that end, a man named Elefthemos Venizelos became a member of the Assembly.
Attempts to get the issue of unification considered were dismissed by Prince George and consequently, by 1905, Venizelos had decided desperate measures were the only answer. He convened an illegal Revolutionary Assembly at Theriso which then proclaimed Crete’s unity with Greece. This rebellion was swiftly suppressed and the ‘Great Powers’, recognisizing that Prince George had lost effective control, replaced him as governor with Alexander Zaimis.
In 1908 the ‘Great Powers’ and Greece were still reluctant to consider changes that might antagonise Turkey but, regardless of that, in 1908 the Cretan Assembly went ahead and issued a declaration of unity with Greece. In an attempt to defuse the situation and appease Turkey the Greek government invited Venizelos to Athens to sit in the Greek parliament but, at the same time, refused to offer seats to other Cretan representatives.
The situation changed again in 1912 when Greece, together with Serbia and Bulgaria, declared war on the Ottoman Empire ……………. it was now no longer necessary to consider Turkey’s wishes with regard to Crete. Cretan deputies were accepted in the Athens Parliament and in 1913 Crete was finally, and officially, recognised as a part of Greece, by the Treaty of Bucharest.
The following year the first World War started but Crete was largely unaffected by events, even after Greece entered the war in 1917. Of far greater consequence for Crete was the ill-fated attempt by Greek expeditionary forces to annex certain Turkish territories in Asia. The Greek invasion forces were defeated and the disaster resulted, in 1923, in the Treaty of Lausanne which inititiated the the 2-way re-patriation of Christians from Turkey and Muslims from Greek territories. 30,000 muslim Cretans, who had Turkish ancestry, were expelled from the island and replaced with similarly displaced Christians from Turkey. Despite this tremendous upheaval, world events of the ’20s and ’30s largely passed the island by and had little effect on the Cretan way of life.
The ’40s were to be a different and dreadful story. In 1941 Greece was drawn into the Second World War and was swiftly over-run by German invasion troops. Crete was next on the agenda and soon afterwards, in May of that year, German soldiers landed near Hania and the vicious battle for Crete had begun. Despite suffering serious casualties the German forces eventually gained the upper hand and the allied troops on the island were forced to retreat to the south coast from where the majority were evacuated to Egypt. Throughout the long, hard years of the war Cretan resistance and guerrilla activities were unceasing despite communities on the island enduring savage retaliatory measures on the part of the German occupying forces.
In 1945, after Germany surrendered, Crete was an island in ruins; cities bombed, roads destroyed, villages, together with their inhabitants, completely wiped out. The island was on its knees but with iron will and resolve determined to survive and rebuild.
In Greece the war was also over but peace hadn’t returned. Wartime resistance had been led, largely, by communist groups and, now that the war was over, they felt that they’d earned the right to play a prominent part in Greek politics. Opinion on this was divided and Greece suffered 4 more years of civil war, until 1949, between the communist factions and supporters of the monarchy. In Crete, however, communism wasn’t popular and so civil war passed the island by enabling her to focus her energies on rebuilding both the economy and the buildings and move into a new and more settled era. In 1947 Greece became a Republic and Crete was one of her 10 administrative provinces. Greece was, geographically, stategically important to NATO security and America (always fearful of communist intervention) was active in supporting right-wing governments in Greece …………… until 1964. But that’s another chapter!