Tag Archives: Ottoman flag

Ottomans Evacuate Crete

On October 4th 1898 the Council of European Admirals, then effectively ruling Crete, gave the Ottoman authorities one month in which to evacuate all Ottoman troops from the island. The Porte having earlier the previous year, and with great reluctance, accepted that Crete was ultimately to be an Autonomous State, agreed to the evacuation in principle, but objected to both the time table and the detailed terms; the Sultan wanting to retain a small force to guard the Ottoman flag. From British records, it’s clear that the various European governments were prepared to compromise to some extent on the Porte’s response, provided that sooner rather than later, the Ottomans left.

However, the Admirals were adamant that if the Ottomans didn’t all evacuate by the given date, after an ultimatum issued forty eight hours beforehand, all ‘…Turkish authorities and forces [would] be considered as enemies.’ If compulsion should prove necessary, the Admirals would commence by attacking and destroying Fort Izzedin and sinking all Ottoman ships in Suda Bay. If the Porte did not immediately submit, ‘…operations will be continued at Canea, Hieraptra, Spinalonga, Kissamo, and Rethymo; but, in consequence of recent events at Candia [the riots of 6th September 1898] Admirals have not the same scruples, and consider that action there should take place at the same time as Suda.’

By way of preparation for an attack on Candia plans were drawn up which would involve the British forces outside the town, if not previously withdrawn into the town, to concentrate and, in a delicious irony, supported by Cretan Christian insurgents who the British had originally come to suppress, withdraw to the coast where they would be re-embarked. The action to be taken In Candia would include the bombardment of the town, and to this end, detailed maps were drawn up showing the likely fields of fire covered by the guns of the Royal Navy and the British infantry.

Map of Candia showing fields of fire.

Map of Candia showing fields of fire.

In the event, in spite of last minute delay and prevarications on the part of the Ottoman authorities, the evacuation in the British secteur took place on 5th and 6th November 1898, without the use of force being necessary – other than in the case of one elderly Ottoman Colonel ’… a grey haired man, [who] refused to clear out without a show of force, so eventually […] was marched down in the middle of a party of the Rifle Brigade to the harbour.’

Ottoman troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

Ottoman troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

The delay in meeting the November 4th deadline, albeit by a day or two, did however, have consequences. The Ottoman flag, which under the terms of the settlement granting Crete Autonomy was supposed to remain flying, was hauled down in Candia and wasn’t raised again until later that month. When it was finally reinstated, in a clear demonstration of where the power on the island actually lay, it was raised and protected by European troops, while, simultaneously, a proclamation was issued guaranteeing European protection to Cretan Muslims.
However, while technically, the last Ottoman troops left Crete on 6th November, a few men did remain behind to supervise the shipping of Ottoman stores and munitions and as late as December that year, arguments were still taking place as to the rank of the Ottoman soldiers who would be allowed to remain; the Ottomans wanting to send a Colonel, the Admirals insisting that no one over the rank of Captain be allowed to remain.

Ottoman Guns being removed from Candia. 1898/1899

Ottoman Guns being removed from Candia. 1898/1899


Guarding the Ottoman Flag

Lowering the Ottoman Flag on the Firka, Canea.

Lowering the Ottoman Flag on the Firka, Canea.

This photograph is undated, but the last time the Ottoman flag flew on Crete, other than the retention of a symbolic flag on Fort Suda in the middle of Suda Bay, and possibly one at Fort Izzedin, was probably on or about 21st December 1898 when Price George of Greece arrived to take up the post of High Commissioner of the newly created Cretan Autonomous State. The nationality of the troops in the photograph above is unclear, but they are possibly Italian since Canea was the base of the Italian occupied secteur.

Following the arrival of the International troops in 1897, the Ottoman flag flew on the Firka under international guard in order to reinforce to the Cretan Christians the determination of the European Powers that Crete should not be united with Greece. On 3rd November 1898, on British orders, the Ottoman flag was hauled down in Candia in order to make it clear to the Ottoman authorities that their time on Crete was over. However, it was allowed to be flown again on 6th November after the eviction of all Ottoman troops and officials from the island: this time in order to show to the Cretan Muslim population that their rights were to be respected even though their co-religionists were no longer in power.


Raising the Greek flag, Suda bay 1913.

Raising the Greek flag, Suda Bay 1913.

By 1913 the political situation had completely changed and, as a result of the Balkan Wars, on 1st December that year Crete was finally legally united with Crete. Prior to enosis, one of the last acts of the International Intervention was undertaken by the Royal Navy when on 13th February 1913, the crew of H. M. S. Yarmouth hauled down the last remaining Ottoman flag, flown as a symbol of the Sultan’s suzerainty over Crete, from its flagpole in the fortress in the middle of Suda Bay and handed it over to the British Consul for safe keeping. (The whereabouts of that flag is currently unknown.) Immediately following the departure of H.M.S Yarmouth, the Greek flag was raised on the flagpole; this time guarded by Greek sailors.*

However, the Ottoman symbol displayed on Fort Izzedin, on the opposite side of Suda Bay to Suda Castle, was not what might be expected. An article published in 1937 stated that by 1912 the nominal Ottoman authority over Crete was “… represented by a Turkish flag, in painted tin, discoloured beyond recognition.” Arguably an apt metaphor for the end of Ottoman rule.**


*Robert Holland and Diana Markides. “The British and the Hellenes; Struggle for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850 – 1960.” O.U.P. Oxford 2006. p.159

**Demetrius Caclamanos, “Reminiscences of the Balkan Wars’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 16 (1937), 117

Multicultural Crete

Most discussions about the European Intervention in Crete refer to two groups on the island: Cretans and Turks; a simplistic catagorisation which omits to account for the fact that most of the ‘Turks’ in question were Cretans and/or or Cretan origin. (In addition, there is census evidence of the presence of relatively small numbers of Jews and Armenians on the island – see National Archive FO925 3193.)

In addition to these ‘regular’ minorities there is pictorial evidence of the presence of other minority groups on the island in 1897.

Tunisian immigrants outside Canea.

A camp of Ben Ghazi immigrants outside the gates of Canea

The original text below the illustration, from Illustrated London News of 6th March 1897, reads: “The Cretan Deputies have made it a special point of concern that these immigrants from Ben Ghazi, Tunis, without any property save tents and rifles, and with no very good reputation, should be expelled from the island. The camp now consists entirely of women and children, the men are said to be absent on business with the regular troops.”

Unfortunately, there’s no information as to why this particular group of people were on the island.

While those shown above appear to be one specific group of immigrants, there is also evidence of more settled minority groups being present, and being apparently integrated into, at least, some the Muslim portion of the population.

The force of example.

The force of example.

The caption, from The Graphic, 3 April 1897, reads: The force of example: Turkish boys in Crete playing at “Going to war with the Greeks.”





…the Captains and the Kings depart

Final lowering of the Ottoman flag in Irapetra.

Final lowering of the Ottoman flag in Irapetra.

Probably taken about 1st November 1898; the Cretan calendar was 12 days behind the European one in  that year.Lowering the British flag in Candia  July 190913 July 1909 and the British finally pull out of Crete…defence cuts forced the withdrawal when the British troops were down to their last flag. Troops shown are 2nd Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment.