“I did not seek war against the Ottoman Empire. I would not have sought war at a later date if I could have obtained any adjustment of the Cretan question—that thorn in the side of Greece which can no longer be left as it is without rendering a normal political life absolutely impossible for us. I endeavored to adjust this question, to continue the policy of a close understanding with the neighboring empire, in the hope of obtaining in this way the introduction of reforms which would render existence tolerable to the millions of Greeks within the Ottoman Empire.”
It was this Cretan question, even more than the Macedonian question, which in 1897 had driven Greece, single-handed and unprepared, into a war with Turkey in which she was destined to meet speedy and overwhelming defeat. It was this same “accursed Cretan question,” as Mr. Venizelos called it, which now drew the country into a military alliance against her Ottoman neighbor who, until too late, refused to make any concession either to the just claims of the Cretans or to the conciliatory proposals of the Greek government.
Lying midway between three continents, the island of Crete has played a large part both in ancient and modern history. The explorations and excavations of Sir Arthur Evans at Cnossus seem to prove that the Homeric civilization of Tiryns and Mycenae was derived from Crete, whose earliest remains carry us back three thousand years before the Christian era. And if Crete gave to ancient Greece her earliest civilization she has insisted on giving herself to modern Greece. It is a natural union; for the Cretans are Greeks, undiluted with Turk, Albanian, or Slav blood, though with some admixture of Italian. The one obstacle to this marriage of kindred souls has been Turkey. For Crete was taken from the Venetians by the Turks in 1669, after a twenty years’ siege of Candia, the capital. A portion of the inhabitants embraced the creed of their conquerors, so that at the present time perhaps two-thirds of the population are Christian and one-third Moslem. The result has been to make Crete the worst governed province of the Ottoman Empire. In Turkey in Europe diversity of race has kept the Christians quarreling with one another; in Crete diversity of religion plunges the same race into internecine war as often as once in ten years. The island had been the scene of chronic insurrections all through the nineteenth century. Each ended as a rule with a promise of the Sultan to confer upon the Cretans some form of local self-government, with additional privileges, financial or other. But these promises were never fulfilled. Things went from bad to worse. The military intervention of Greece in 1897 led to war with Turkey in which she was disastrously defeated. The European Powers had meantime intervened and they decided that Crete should be endowed with autonomy under the sovereignty