27 Feb The confrontation between Venizelos and Cretan representatives (1911-1912): an article by G. Koukourakis*.
In the early 1910s the Cretan question was on the razor¢s edge. The course of events in the Balkan Peninsula gave rise to hopes that the practice of creating faits accomplis would lead to the “coveted” unification with Greece. The Cretans had already proceeded, by passing a “resolution of unification” in September 1908, to a de facto abolition of the High Commission and a unilateral proclamation of union with Greece. The initial tolerance of the “Protective Powers” was soon succeeded, under the pressure of Turks, by severity and threats. An important proportion of Cretan politicians regarded the assumption of Greece¢s premiership by a “son of Crete”, Eleftherios Venizelos, in October 1910, as a great chance for achieving unification. Venizelos, however, was convinced that the Cretan question could not be resolved from day to day, particularly at this juncture that the international setting was not favorable: the Ottoman Empire was menacing war; there were not any requisite alliances at diplomatic level; the Powers were opposing to the attempt of unification.
In November 1911 the “Cretan Revolutionary Assembly” decided to send delegates to the Greek Parliament, in order to force international recognition of its unification. 71 representatives (3 representatives for each town and county, and 5 “honorary” representatives for the entire island of Crete) were elected, and 24 among them were chosen by lot to go, for a start, to Athens. On December 2nd lots of people gathered at the port of Chania to see off the delegates, who embarked on the stream vessel “Spetsai” for Piraeus. However, after the intervention of the French guard and under the surveillance of the French warship, onboard which were the Consuls of the Great Powers, the vessel was directed to the port of Souda. The delegates were kept prisoners for 20 days, until the completion of the Greek Parliament¢s workings.
Yet, the efforts for a “complete and clear Unification of Crete with the independent Kingdom of Greece” were not abandoned. On 11 March 1912, the National Election Day in Greece, 69 “representatives to the Greek Parliament” were elected in Crete; one-third among them were Venizelists that did not, however, adopt their leader¢s position on the Cretan question.
The same scene was repeated: on April 15 the stream vessel “Peloponnesus”, onboard which were 18 delegates, was forced by a British warship to return to the port. Once again, the Consuls were present. The representatives were arrested and kept in the warships of the Great Powers for more than a month. However, having “learned a lesson from the example” of November, 44 representatives had already arrived to Athens “sporadically and quietly”. In order to gain time, Venizelos postponed the commencement of the Parliament¢s workings for a month. In the meantime, he had meetings with the delegates and tried, in vain, to dissuade them. He made it clear that “Greece is currently failing to accept them because of its military inadequacy”, and confuted the agreement that a Greco-Turkish war would lead to the unification, while he explicitly declared that: “It is not fair for Greece to suffer such damage for the sake of Cretans¢ obstinacy.”
On May 19, the Cretan representatives attempted to participate in the inaugural session of the Greek Parliament, but they were repelled by strong military and gendarmerie forces. A Cretan delegate (Michael Daskalakis, Rethymno) managed to enter the Parliament Hall and to attend the searing-in ceremony. It was only until he hailed for the unification that they noticed him –indeed some of the deputies applauded him– and then drove him back at the Prime Minister¢s behest.
Upon the completion of the formal procedure and the reading of Venizelos¢ statement about the non-acceptance of the Cretans¢ request, the beginning of the Parliament session was once again postpone for October.
The Cretan representatives had gained support from the Press and the public opinion. Thousands of Athenians that had been gathered outside the Parliament building applauded them to the echo. On the previous day, the Minister of Justice Nikolaos Dimitrakopoulos had resigned.
Venizelos¢ insistence to refuse its compatriots¢ participation in the Greek Parliament was a terrible personal adversity –a “great mental suffering” according to his own words: “I care but little if they call me traitor, if I fall from government. Yet, I am in such a difficult position! My hair turned white while being in the service of the Cretan question, and now I am obliged to punish its current defenders.”
On the eve of the outbreak of the First Balkan War, the Cretan representatives were feted at the Greek Parliament (October 1, 1912). Greece had already joined the united Balkan front (Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro) against the declining Ottoman Empire. Venizelos recognized the functioning of a “common Parliament for the independent Kingdom of Greece and the island of Crete”, and invited the Cretan delegates to return to their island and proceed with the election of official representatives, providing for the preservation of peace and the protection of the Muslim population. A few days later (October 11), Stephanos Dragoumis was appointed Governor-General of Crete. The de facto union of Crete with Greece was a fact, just 14 moths prior to the rise of the Greek flag on the fortress of Firka.
Parliamentary Proceedings. Newspapers Eleftheron Vima (Chania), Empros, Skrip, The National Herald (New York), Feb. 1920.
Koukkou, E., Ανέκδοτα έγγραφα του 1912, Proceedings of the 2nd International Cretological Congress, vol. 4, 1969: 220-245.
Papadakis, I. N., Κρήτες Βουλευταί δια την ελληνικήν Βουλήν προ της Ενώσεως, Municipality of Itanos, Lasithi Prefecture, 2000.
*Giorgos Koukourakis is a scientific associate of the National Research Foundation “Eleftherios K. Venizelos”.
Article in the newspaper Haniotika Nea (date of publication: 1 Dec. 2009)