15 Mar “Definitive and irrevocable unification of Crete with Greece”: an interview by Nikolaos Papadakis*
Which are the main turning points in the long course of Cretan struggles that led to the unification of Crete with Greece?
Rebellions and coups had already been continuous since the second half of the 18th century. The Cretans fought with vigour and self-denial for one and only purpose: the unification of Crete with Greece. Any other status was regarded as an essential step towards this union. To mention the most important uprisings: the Daskalogiannis revolution in 1770, the Cretan participation in the Greek Revolution of 1821, the Mournies revolution in 1833, the Cheretis and Vasilogiorgis revolution in 1841, the Mavrogenis movement at Boutsounaria in 1858, the Great Cretan Revolution of 1866-69, the revolution of 1878 ended with the Pact of Chalepa, the revolution of 1895 under the Political Changeover Committee, and the revolution of 1897 followed by the grant of Cretan autonomy by the Great Powers.
How Eleftherios Venizelos contributed to the achievement of the unification of Crete with Greece?
On 1 December 1913, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos, two Cretan insurgents, Hatzimichalis Giannaris and Anagnostis Mantakas, raised the Greek flag on the fortress of Firka. This was the moral victory for Venizelos¢ perennial efforts in the field of revolution, and the fruit of his opportune strategic choices in the area of diplomacy. At the same time, it was the moral victory for many generations of Cretans, who had struggled with courage, staging revolutions and uprisings, with the sole desire for unification with Greece.
Fifteen years ago, in 1898, autonomy had been granted to Crete by the Great Powers. Cretans regarded the Autonomous Cretan State as a necessary transition stage on the road to union. The circumstances were not favorable, and required diplomatic handling with surgical precision. An inaccurate movement could have proved fatal. Opportunities arose in 1905, 1908 and 1910. The unification was eventually accomplished after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, when, thanks to Venizelos¢ insight and targeted policy, Greece (being on the victors¢ side) obtained significant territorial gains (Macedonia, Epirus, the North and East Aegean islands, and Crete).
By which international conventions was Crete integrated into the Greek mainland?
The Cretan question was settled, in an absolute and definitive way, by the terms of three international conventions.
The Treaty of London (May 17/30, 1913) ratified the cessation of the First Balkan War (1912-13) by dividing the territorial spoils of the defeated Ottoman Empire among the victors (Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro). This Treaty was finally signed after arduous negotiations, communications and representations. The Sultan renounced all rights of sovereignty, or any other right, over Crete, which was ceded to the four Balkan states (Article 4). He also ceded to the victorious countries the Empire¢s territory in Europe west of a line drawn from Enos (a town near the mouth of the Evros River) to Midia (a town on the Black Sea), except Albania, which was declared an independent state (Art. 2). During negotiations, the governments of the great European states (Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia) played a crucial role, as they were entitled to decide on the question of Albania and that of the Aegean Islands, with the exception of Crete (Art. 5).
The Second Balkan War broke out prior to the ratification of the Treaty of London. The Treaty of Bucharest (July 28 / August 10, 1913), which was concluded between the defeated country of the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria, and the victorious ones, Greece, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, defined the new boundaries of Bulgaria with the former three countries. This treaty was an important step towards the fulfillment of the Greek territorial claims. The area of the Greek state doubled, Greece acquired territories of great geopolitical importance, and its population climbed to 4.7 millions. The country¢s international position was notably ameliorated.
Bulgaria explicitly renounced any claim to Crete (Art. 5), while there was no need to call for a similar waiver from the other two states to which Crete had been ceded by the Treaty of London, Serbia and Montenegro.
The Great Powers recognized that the terms of the Treaty of London remained binding, since the latter served their interests. Thus, this Treaty constituted a “preliminary” protocol, which formed the basis for the subsequent protocol of the Conference of Ambassadors (of the Great Powers). According to this protocol, every allied country could conclude a definitive bilateral convention with the Ottoman Empire to explicitly settle specific bilateral claims.
Turkey and Greece signed the Treaty of Athens (November 1/14, 1913), which ratified the terms that had “preliminarily” stipulated by the Treaty of London. This was, according to Venizelos, “the last word on the Cretan question”, as the ratification of the Treaty of London extinguished the last traces of Turkish sovereignty over Crete. Crete¢s definitive annexation to Greece took effect a month later, on 1 December 1913.
Over the last years, a scenario has been circulated, at whisper or rumor level, about a prospective plebiscite in 2013, by which Cretans will be asked to decide whether they wish Crete to remain an integral part of the Greek state. Will ballot boxes be eventually set up in 2013, Mr. Papadakis?
This is drollery that belongs to the sphere of imagination. Actually, I haven¢t made it clear if it¢s about fond hopes of some circles acting in the dark, or just a joke on the internet. In any case, this is pure invention that lacks seriousness. The unification of Crete with Greece has a definitive and irrevocable character; it¢s not a unification with… expiration date. None of the international conventions that settled the Cretan question definitively, describes that the unification is subject to any time limitation, nor that there is any possibility of reconsidering Crete¢s annexation to the Greek mainland in 100, 200 or… 1000 years. Besides, the same applies to Macedonia, Epirus, the Aegean Islands and Thrace, which were integrated into the Greek mainland by the above mentioned conventions or later ones.
*Nikolaos Emm. Papadakis is the CEO of the National Research Foundation “Eleftherios K. Venizelos”.
Interview to the newspaper “Haniotika Nea”
(date of publication: 1 Dec. 2009)