On 7th March 1897 a force consisting of 200 British sailors and marines, 100 French , 100 Austrian and 75 Russians, landed on the south west coast of Crete. Accompanied by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul, their task was to evacuate some 1600 Cretan Muslims and 450 Ottoman soldiers from the village of Kandanos in south west Crete, then under siege by Christian Cretans supported by Greek manned artillery. (It should be noted that the actual dates on which the events in the evacuation occurred are somewhat difficult to determine. The main source of information is Sir Alfred Biliotti who although he was present throughout, was less than clear in his dispatches; particularly when it came to putting dates in his narrative! The dates given here was obtained from various accounts, including the log of H. M. S. Rodney; in deference to the log keeping traditions of the Royal Navy, these dates are preferred to those given by Biliotti. Similarly, the numbers of evacuees varies from account to account.) The village of Kandanos was at this time, the centre of the Cretan Muslim population of Selinos district, their numbers having been increased by an influx of refugees seeking sanctury and the protection of the Ottoman garrison following the massacre of their co-religionists in Sarakina the previous month.
Attempts by the European Consuls and the Council of Admirals to negotiate the safe passage for the Muslims out of kandanos were thwarted by the Greek Vice-Consul and the Greek military commanders on Crete* and finally the decision was taken to evacuate them, if necessary using force for their protection. The base for the rescue operation was the then semi-derelict village Selino Kastelli, modern Paleochora.
Stopping overnight in the village of Spaniakos, where a reporter from The Times who had been travelling with the insurgents, recorded that the French Officers commandeered the mosque while the British had to make do with a small harem, on 8th March, the expedition reached Kandanos without serious incident. The following morning, the column escorted the Muslims back down to Selino-Kastelli, collecting the garrison of the fort at Spaniakos as well, and in spite of the refugees being robbed of nearly all their possessions en route, managed to effect the evacuation without serious bloodshed. On arrival at Selino-Kastelli that evening, the insurgents fired on the column, but they were eventually driven off by fire from the Russian field gun. The following morning, 10th March, the Christians again fired on the troops on the beach; this time fire was returned by the European troops and the warships in the bay, the rebels eventually being cleared by a bayonet charge. No Europeans were injured in the exercise but four insurgents were killed and sixteen wounded.
Biliotti reported to the Foreign Office::
‘Successfully rescued to-day, but not without the greatest peril, 523 men, 1,047 women and children, and 340 soldiers from Candamos [sic]. Picked (up) on way back 112 soldiers from Spaniako blockhouse. Natives of Candamos embarked. We are now embarking Mussulman refugees at Selino Castelli [sic], about 1,000.’
The French troops are reported as having spent the night in a local notable’s harem; the British in the local mosque.
The Spaniakos mosque was destroyed after the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from the area. (Further details of the area around Spaniakos can be found here.)
Following the evacuation, the refugees arrived in Canea aboard the various European vessels. Some would stay in Canea, some went to the Turkish mainland, but few ever returned to Kandanos, and those who did were uprooted again in the 1923 population exchange.
During the operation several maps and sketches of the area were produced, apparently by French naval officers.
International troops landed at Selino Kastelli and then proceed to Kandanos via Spaniakos and Kakodiki.
The outline of the hills above the village appears to suggest that the sketch was made from a viewpoint in the south west bay.
Evidence of the use of Gras rifles, the type used by the Cretan insurgents, has been found near the site of the final encounter.
More details of the bullet can be found here.
The evacuation marked the effective end of the Ottoman presence in south west Crete, an event marked on a plaque erected on the wall of the old castle in Paleochora in 2020.
The text in English reads:
‘After 374 years of Venitian slavery and 244 years of Turkish, here on 1 March 1897 at the end of the revolution of 1896-1897 in Selino, the revolutionary liberation flag of Selino was raised. Here on 1 December 1913 with the union of Crete with Greece, the Greek flag was raised.’
A futher monument is located outside the old school in the hamlet of Beilitika, 5km south of Kandanos, marking one of the sites where Biliotti negotiated the release of the Muslim hostages. The text reads:
‘At Beilitika in 1897 a surrender treaty was signed by the Turks of Selino who were surrounded in Kandanos and we were free after three centuries of slavery.’
- Historical Account of the International Occupation Of Crete. Captain J.F. Cazenove, 81st Infantry Regiment. 1908. Service Historique del la Defense, Vincennes. Unpublished document transcribed and edited by J-P Destelle, 2019.
Many thanks to Bob Tait for supplying the illustration of the Spaniakos mosque, to Michalis Adamtziloglou for the translation of the plaques and to jean-Pierre Destelle for access to Captain Cazenove’s account. .