Greco-Turkish War

Greek Christians living under Ottoman rule in Crete were denied both the practice of their religious faith and a say in their governance. Joined by the Greek army, the Cretan Christians rebelled and fought against the Ottomans. Although they ultimately lost their battles, their island was eventually freed from the Ottomans with the help of European powers and was united with Greece in 1912.

Summary of Event

The island of Crete and its Greek population came under Ottoman rule in 1669. Crete’s Islam;on Crete[Crete] population, which by 1760 was approximately 20 percent Christian and 80 percent Muslim, dynamically changed, and by 1895 was 80 percent Christian and 20 percent Muslim. As the Cretan Christian population rose to a majority, their lack of representation and power in the government caused conflict between them and their Muslim landlords. The Organic Statute in 1868 gave concessions to the Christians from the ruling Porte (government of the Ottoman Empire). The Christians were officially given the right to have a Christian governor in Crete, representation on the council, and to have the Greek language recognized as an official language. Greece;and Turkey[Turkey]
Greco-Turkish War (1897)[Greco Turkish War (1897)]
Ottoman Empire;and Crete[Crete]
[kw]Greco-Turkish War (Jan. 21-May 20, 1897)
[kw]Turkish War, Greco- (Jan. 21-May 20, 1897)
[kw]War, Greco-Turkish (Jan. 21-May 20, 1897)
Greece;and Turkey[Turkey]
Greco-Turkish War (1897)[Greco Turkish War (1897)]
Ottoman Empire;and Crete[Crete]
[g]Greece;Jan. 21-May 20, 1897: Greco-Turkish War[6220]
[g]Turkey;Jan. 21-May 20, 1897: Greco-Turkish War[6220]
[g]Ottoman Empire;Jan. 21-May 20, 1897: Greco-Turkish War[6220]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Jan. 21-May 20, 1897: Greco-Turkish War[6220]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Jan. 21-May 20, 1897: Greco-Turkish War[6220]
George I
Constantine I
George, Prince

The Pact of Halepa Halepa Pact (1878) , granted in 1878, gave the Christians of Crete further rights, including a majority representation on the general assembly of Crete. Both the Organic and Halepa Pacts turned out to be more about promises than about practices from the Porte, causing discontent and conflict between the Cretan Christians and their rulers.

In December of 1895, the Porte appointed a Muslim Islam;on Crete[Crete] governor to Crete. By February of 1896, the island had seen frequent racial-religious murders. In May, a violent uprising in Canea caused the deaths of many Cretan Christians. The great powers—Great Britian, Russia, France, and Italy—sent warships to Crete to try to keep the peace. Crete appealed to Greece for help and protection. The powers, who were still distraught from dealing with the Armenian Armenians massacres, urged the Greek government to not get involved in the rebellion in Crete.

The powers approached the Porte about the need for the Christians in Crete to have representation in the government in order to maintain the peace. The Porte refused to grant any privileges to the Christians until they stopped rebelling. Cretan rebellions continued. The European powers and rebel leaders met at Constantinople and decided to reinstate a Christian governor in Crete and to force the Porte to uphold the reforms given to the Christians in the Halepa Pact. Halepa Pact (1878) In June of 1896, Russia acted on behalf of the ambassadors to present these demands to the Porte. The Porte conceded to the terms, but by that time the reforms were not acceptable to the Christian leaders in Crete. Not believing that the reforms would be enforced, the Cretan Christians insisted that they be annexed to Greece.

The European powers did not feel that annexation to Greece was a practical alternative. They were afraid that it would lead to further conflict in Europe and uprisings in Macedonia Macedonia and elsewhere, dividing the Ottoman Empire into warring factions. The powers decided to ask Greece to stop shipments of supplies to Crete and to encourage the Christians in Crete to agree to the concessions the Turks were offering. Greece would not cooperate with the powers because it believed the powers did make the Porte live up to its promises to Greece in the Greeks’ successful fight against Ottoman rule.

In response, the powers decided to form their own blockade of supplies going to Crete by blocking both Cretan and Greek ports. England’s third marquis of Salisbury, Salisbury, third marquess of
[p]Salisbury, third marquess of;and Greco-Turkish War[Greco Turkish War] under the pressure of public opinion in Great Britain, suggested that a blockade by only one of the powers would be effective enough to bring Greece into compliance. The powers failed to work in concert because of public opinion and because of political ties through marriages (King George I’s relation to Denmark).

In August of 1896 the Porte made an offer to appoint a Christian governor in Crete and to allow the Christian Cretans power in their own governance. Cretan Christians finally accepted the terms, but when they saw no real changes in their involvement in the government and that the Christian governor was merely a figurehead without any real power, they decided to rebel.

Turkish troops crossing the frontier into Greece.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

During the last part of the nineteenth century, Greek foreign policy was geared toward expansion. Control over Macedonia Macedonia was a prime concern in the eastern Mediterranean. When it became clear that Bulgaria Bulgaria had been making plans to annex Macedonia rather than work with the Greeks and Serbs to make Macedonia an autonomous state with equal treatment for all nationalities, the Serbs and Greeks founded secret organizations to promote their causes. The Greeks formed the Greek National Society to support schools and to promote Hellenistic (Greek) propaganda and to defend the rights of Hellenism abroad. The National Society quickly evolved into a force to promote expansion and to resist the oppression of Greek Christians in areas under Ottoman control. Between two-thirds to three-fourths of the Greek army’s officers belonged to the National Society.

The Greek National Society initially was reluctant to put its effort into annexing Crete, preferring to further Greek interests and control in Thessaly, Epirus Epirus , and then Macedonia Macedonia . In 1986, however, when it appeared that the promises made to the Cretan Christians by the Porte were once again empty, some of the members of the society went to Crete to help organize a revolt. In February of 1897 fighting broke out around Canea; within two days the town was on fire. Messages were sent to the Greek consul in Athens that Turkish soldiers were shooting the Cretan Christians. Greece responded by sending warships and transports to protect Greek nationals. In March, Greek forces claimed Crete in the name of King George I George I . This show of force on Greece’s part worried the powers, including Germany and Austria, who sent three thousand marines to the region in an attempt to quell the rebellion.

Greece sent forty-five thousand troops to Thessaly and approximately twenty-five thousand to Epirus Epirus to confront the Turkish troops. The National Society attacked Turkish posts in Macedonia Macedonia . The Ottoman government broke off all negotiations and declared war. The Greeks were the underdogs in a war that would last thirty days. The Turks, who had more than one million soldiers in the field, had been expertly trained by the Germans and were adequately armed with state-of-the-art weapons. The Greeks had less than 100,000 men, led by officers who were political appointees more than trained soldiers.

With these weaknesses, Prince Constantine Constantine I led approximately forty-five thousand troops to Thessaly. He was met by six divisions of Turkish soldiers and was easily turned back. The Turks defeated the Greeks at Meluna Pass and Larissa. The Greek troops rallied in Velestino but were attacked and driven out when they moved to Pharsala. In Epirus, fifteen thousand Greek troops tried to hold a line from Arta to Peta but were defeated by a larger and better-trained army of Turks.

On May 21, the fighting was ended, and an armistice was signed on December 4. Crete was given autonomy and protection under the European powers, and the Turkish troops were forced to leave Crete. Greece was required to pay a large indemnity to Turkey, and at the request of Germany was put under international control of its finances. Prince George, Prince George of Greece was appointed governor of Crete from 1898 until his resignation in 1906. Not until 1912 would Crete finally achieve its goal of being united with Greece.


The Greco-Turkish War exemplified the Cretans’ desire to unite with Greece. It also gave a clear message to Europe, the Middle East, and the various nationalities under the control of the Ottoman Empire that the Ottoman army was extremely strong, well trained, and well equipped. For those in doubt of the future of the Turkish Empire, the war proved that the empire remained powerful. Interestingly, Crete and Greece, as the “losers” of the war, nevertheless were victorious when Turkish troops left Crete and Crete become autonomous and protected by the European powers.

Further Reading

  • Campbell, John. Modern Greece. New York: Praeger, 1968. Detailed history of Greece between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, including the political climate behind the history.
  • Desch, Michael. “Democracy and Victory.” International Security 28, no. 1 (2003): 352-361. Discusses the pros and cons of political regimes winning wars and how the Greco-Turkish War defies the hypothesis.
  • Holland, Robert. “Nationalism, Ethnicity, and the Concert of Europe.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 17, no. 2 (1999): 253-276. A detailed history of Crete’s fight for union with Greece.
  • Langer, William. The Diplomacy of Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1950. A detailed study of the Greco-Turkish War and the role of the great powers.
  • Stallman, R. W., ed. The War Dispatches of Stephen Crane. New York: New York University Press, 1964. Crane’s actual observations of the Greco-Turkish War, which he covered as a journalist. A fun read as well as a good, but at times biased, history.

Greeks Fight for Independence from the Ottoman Empire

Treaty of Adrianople

Greece Unifies Under the Glücksburg Dynasty

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i><br />

Third Marquis of Salisbury; Alexander and Demetrios Ypsilantis. Greece;and Turkey[Turkey]
Greco-Turkish War (1897)[Greco Turkish War (1897)]
Ottoman Empire;and Crete[Crete]