Not so reliable allies

Upon arrival on Crete in February 1897, the International forces were, in effect, reluctant allies of the Ottoman Empire. The European objective at that time was to bring a halt to the inter-communal strife brought about by the Cretan Christian insurrection and to prevent the annexation of Crete by Greece.

While part of the European peace keeping strategy was to proclaim a blockade of the island to prevent both Greek and Ottoman reinforcements arriving, and hence exacerbating an already volatile situation, they still had to co-operate with the existing Ottoman garrison of the island. This garrison consisted to two elements, regular Ottoman Army units and locally raised volunteers; Bashi-bazouks, a term originally applied to irregular mercenary troops within the feudal Ottoman Empire.
The regular Ottoman soldiers on Crete, though often treated with disdain by the British, had at least a recognised, and recognisable, command structure. However, the Bashi-bazouks on Crete at this time, in part raised, armed and paid for by the Ottoman authorities as a sort of Muslim home guard, and formally on the ration strength of the Ottoman army, were much less formal and, apparently, nearly totally undisciplined.

Bashi Bazouks 1896. Note the regular Ottoman troops in the background giving the lie to the suggestion that bashi bazouks were merely groups of armed Cretan Muslims.

Bashi-bazouks 1896. Note the presence of regular Ottoman troops,  giving the lie to the suggestion that Bashi- bazouks were merely groups of armed Cretan Muslims.

Bashi bazouks, Fort izeddin

March 1897. Romanticised view of Bashi-bazouks. Fort Izeddin, Suda bay, in the background.

BazibazouksWith the events of 6th September 1898 any pretense that the Bashi-bazouks were in any sense allies of the British had gone, and the murders carried out by them in Candia, coupled with the failure of the regular Ottoman troops to take action to stop them, resulted in the Ottoman eviction from the island.

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One thought on “Not so reliable allies

  1. Pingback: Inter-communal violence… good for chocolate sales. | The British in Crete, 1896 to 1913.

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