Cretan Turks: Wikis


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Cretan Turks
(Girit Türkleri)
AliFuatCebesoy.gif MustafaFehmiKubilay.jpgHüsamettinCindoruk.gif
Total population
est. 200,000-300,000[4]
Regions with significant populations
Turkey  • Lebanon

Turkish, Cretan Greek


Sunni Islam, Bektashism

Related ethnic groups

Turks, Greeks

The Cretan Turks (Turkish: Giritli or Girit Türkleri or Türk Giritliler), Turco-Cretans (Greek: Τουρκοκρητικοί), or Cretan Muslims were the Muslim inhabitants of Crete (until 1923) and their descendants in Turkey.

After the Ottoman conquest of Crete (1645-1669), Turkish settlement and a high rate of local conversions makes the island a unique case in Ottoman history [1] Some sources prefer to use the term Cretan Muslims to also account for a median population that converted to Islam in the course of the 19th century.

They were forced to leave Crete and migrate, in their majority to Turkey, in successive waves in the course of the 19th century, during or after the events of 1897 [2], at the start of the Greek rule in 1908[3] and especially in the framework of the 1923 agreement for the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations. Many Cretan Turks had attained prominent positions within the Ottoman Empire and later in Turkey and they had forged a high level Turkish language culture. In the multilingual environment of Ottoman Crete, many were also fluent in the Cretan Greek dialect (κρητικά kritika).

They have settled along Turkey's coastline stretching from the Çanakkale to İskenderun in Turkey; while other waves of refugees settled in Syrian cities like Damascus, Aleppo and Al Hamidiyah; in Tripoli, Lebanon; Haifa, Israel, Alexandria and Tanta in Egypt. While some of these peoples have integrated themselves with the hospitable populations around them over the course of the 20th century, the majority of them still live in a tightly knit communities preserving their unique culture, traditions, Turkish language and Cretan Greek dialect. In fact many of them made reunion visits to distant relatives in Lebanon, in Crete and even other parts of Greece where some of the cousins may still share the family name but follow a different religion.

The tekke of Horasanlı Baba in Kandiye (Heraklion), demolished in the 1920s [3].



Starting in 1645, the Ottoman Empire gradually took Crete from the Republic of Venice, which had ruled it since 1204. In the final major defeat, Candia (modern Iraklion) fell to the Ottomans in 1669 (though some offshore islands remained Venetian until 1715). Crete remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1897.

Unlike other Ottoman provinces, the fall of Crete was not accompanied by a large influx of Muslims. On the other hand, many Cretans converted to Islam — more than in any other part of the Greek world. Various explanations have been given for this, including the disruption of war, the possibility of receiving a timar (for those who went over to the Ottomans during the war), Latin-Orthodox dissension, avoidance of the head-tax (cizye) on non-Muslims, the increased social mobility of Muslims, and the opportunity that Muslims had of joining the paid militia (which the Cretans also aspired to under Venetian rule).[4]

It is difficult to estimate the proportion which became Muslim, as Ottoman cizye tax records count only Christians: estimates range from 30-50%.[5] By the early 19th century, as many as 45% of the islanders may have been Muslim. The Muslim population declined through the 19th century, and by the last Ottoman census, in 1881, Muslims were only 26% of the population, concentrated in the three large towns on the north coast, and in Monofatsi.

Year[6] 1821 1832 1858 1881 1900 1910 1920 1928
Muslims 47% 43% 22% 26% 11% 8% 7% 0%

Most of Cretan Muslims were local Greek converts who spoke Cretan Greek, yet at the dawn of Greek nationalism, the Christian population labeled them "Turks".[7] People who claim descent from Muslim Cretans are still found in several Muslim countries today, and principally in Turkey.

Between 1821 and 1828, during the Greek War of Independence, the island was the scene of repeated hostilities. Most Muslims were driven into the large fortified towns on the north coast and both the Muslim and Christian populations of the island suffered severe losses, due to conflicts, plague or famine. In the 1830s, Crete was an impoverished and backward island.

Since the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, had no army of his own available, he was forced to seek the aid of his rebellious vassal and rival, Kavalalı Mehmed Ali Pasha of Egypt, who sent troops to the island. Starting in 1832, the island was administered for two decades by an Albanian from Egypt, Giritli Mustafa Naili Pasha (later a Grand Vizier), whose rule attempted to create a synthesis between the Muslim landowers and the emergent Christian commercial classes. His rule was generally cautious, pro-British, and he tried harder to win the support of the Christians (having married the daughter of a priest and allowed her to remain Christian) than the Muslims. In 1834, however, a Cretan committee had already been founded in Athens to work for the union of the island with Greece.

In 1840, Egypt was forced by Palmerston to return Crete to direct Ottoman rule. Giritli Mustafa Naili Pasha angled unsuccessfully to become a semi-independent prince but the Cretans rose up against him, once more driving the Muslims temporarily into siege in the towns. An Anglo-Ottoman naval operation restored control in the island and Giritli Mustafa Naili Pasha was confirmed as its governor, though under command from İstanbul. He remained in Crete until 1851 when he was summoned to the capital, where at a relatively advanced age he pursued a successful career.

An ethnic map of Crete, around 1861. Turks are in red, Greeks in blue

Religious tensions erupted on the island between Muslims and Christians and the Christian populations of Crete revolted twice against Ottoman rule (in 1866 and in 1897). In the uprising of 1866, the rebels initially managed to gain control of most of the hinterland although as always the four fortified towns of the north coast and the southern town of Ierapetra remained in Ottoman hands. The Ottoman approach to the Cretan question was that, if Crete was lost, the next line of defense would have to be the Dardanelles, as indeed it was the case later. The Ottoman Grand Vizier, Mehmed Emin Aali Pasha arrived in the island in October 1867 and set in progress a low profile district-by-district reconquest of the island followed by the erection of blockhouses or local fortresses across the whole of it. More importantly, he designed an Organic Law which gave the Cretan Christians equal (in practice, because of their superior numbers, majority) control of local administration. At the time of the Congress of Berlin in the summer of 1878, there was a further uprising, which was speedily halted through the adaptation of the Organic Law into a constitutional settlement known as the Pact of Halepa.

Crete became a semi-independent parliamentary state within the Ottoman Empire under a Greek Orthodox Governor. A number of the senior "Christian Pashas" including Photiades Pasha and Adossides Pasha ruled the island in the 1880s, presiding over a parliament in which liberals and conservatives contended for power. Disputes between these led to a further insurgency in 1889 and the collapse of the Pact of Halepa arrangements. The international powers allowed the Ottoman authorities to send troops to the island and restore order but the Sultan Abdulhamid II used the occasion for ruling the island by martial law. This action led to international sympathy for the Cretan Christians and to a loss of any remaining acquiescence among them for continued Ottoman rule. When a small insurgency began in September 1895, it quickly spiralled out of control and by the summer of 1896, the Ottoman forces had lost military control over most of the island. The insurrection in 1897 led to a war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire. By March 1897 however, the Great Powers decided to govern the island temporarily through a committee of four admirals who remained in charge until the arrival of Prince George of Greece as first governor-general of an autonomous Crete, effectively detached from the Ottoman Empire, in late December 1898. Ottoman forces were expelled in 1898, and an independent Cretan State, headed by Prince George of Greece, was founded.

The island's Muslim population lost heavily from these changes though some remained in Crete . From the summer of 1896 until the end of hostilities in 1898, Cretan Muslims remained under siege in the four coastal cities, where massacres against them took place. Subsequent waves of emigration followed as the island was united by stages with Greece. Those remaining were forced to leave Crete under the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations in 1924. In Turkey, some descendants of this population continued to speak a form of Cretan Greek dialect until recently.

In 1908, the Cretan deputies declared union with Greece, which was internationally recognized after the Balkan Wars in 1913. Under the Treaty of London, Sultan Mehmed V relinquished his formal rights to the island.


Bektashi tradition

Although most Cretan Turks are Sunni Muslims, Islam in Crete during the Ottoman rule was deeply influenced by the Bektashi Sufi order, as it has been the case in other parts of the Balkans. This influence went far beyond the actual numbers of Bektashis present in Crete and it contributed to the shaping of the literary output, folk Islam and a tradition of inter-religious tolerance.


Turks in Crete produced an unusually rich and varied literary output, leading one researcher to define a "Cretan School" which counts twenty-one poets who evolved within Ottoman Divan poetry or Turkish folk literature traditions, especially in the 18th century [8] Personal, mystical, fantastic themes abound in the works of these men of letters, reflecting the dynamism of the cultural life in the island.

A taste and echo of this tradition can be perceived in the verses below by Giritli Sırrı Pasha (1844 - 1895);

Fidânsın nev-nihâl-i hüsn ü ânsın âfet-i cânsın
Gül âşık bülbül âşıkdır sana, bir özge cânânsın[9]

which were certainly addressed to his wife, the poetess-composer Leyla Saz, herself a notable figure for being one of the first Turkish women to have stepped into the modern traditions of the Turkish literature and her "Hymn to the Mediterranean" (Akdeniz Marşı), in praise of Mustafa Kemal Pasha remains highly popular and, since constantly sung in our day in Turkey's schools and caserns, instantly recognizable. [10]


A study by one Greek researcher counts six Muslim Cretans who engaged themselves into music in Cretan Greek dialect [11]. The Cretans brought the musical tradition they shared with the Cretan Christians to Turkey with them:

One of the significant aspects of Giritli culture is that this Islamic--often Bektashi--sensibility is expressed through the Greek language. [There has been] some confusion about their cultural identity, and an assumption is often made that their music was somehow more "Turkish" than "Cretan". In my view this assumption is quite wrong....[12]

Cretan Turkish Culture in Turkey

The freighter Giresun which carried thousands of exchanged "Turkish Cretans" from the ports of Crete to Turkey in the summer of 1923.

Nuances may be observed among the waves of immigrations from Crete and the respective behavioral patterns. At the end of the 19th century Turks often fled massacres[citation needed] to take refuge in the present-day territory of Turkey or beyond (see Al Hamidiyah). During the 1910s, with the termination of the Cretan State which had recognized the Muslim community of the island a proper status, many others left. The Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)[13] and the ensuing population exchange is the final chapter among the root causes that shaped these nuances.

Among contributions made by Cretan Turks to the Turkish culture in general, the first to be mentioned should be their particular culinary traditions based on consumption at high-levels of olive oil and of a surprisingly wide array of herbs and other plant-based raw materials. While they have certainly not introduced olive oil and herbs to their compatriots, Cretan Turks have greatly extended the knowledge and paved the way for a more varied use of these products. Their predilection for herbs, some of which could be considered as unusual ones, has also been the source of some jokes. The Giritli chain of restaurants in İstanbul, Ankara and Bodrum, and Ayşe Ün's "Girit Mutfağı" (Cretan Cuisine) eateries in İzmir are indicative references in this regard. Occasional although intrinsically inadequate care has also been demonstrated by the authorities in the first years of the Turkish Republic for settling Cretan Turks in localities where vineyards left by the departed Greeks were found, since this capital was bound to be lost in the hands of cultivators with no prior knowledge of viniculture. In the field of maritime industries, the pioneer of gulet boats construction that became a vast industry in Bodrum in our day, Ziya Güvendiren was a Cretan Turk, as are many of his former apprentices who themselves have become master shipbuilders and who are based in Bodrum or Güllük today.

An overall pattern of investing in expertise and success remains remarkable among Cretan Turks, as attested by the notable names below. With sex roles and social change starting out from different grounds for Turkish Cretans [14], the adaptation to the "fatherland" [15] did not always take place without pain, including that of being subjected to slurs as in other cases involving immigration of people.[16]. According to Peter Loizos, they were often were relegated to the poorest land:

They were briefly feted on arrival, as 'Turks' 'returning' to the Turkish heartland... like the Asia Minor Christians seeking to settle on former Muslim land in northern Greece, the Muslim refugees found that local people, sometimes government officials, had already occupied the best land and housing.[17]

The same author depicts a picture where they did not share the "Ottoman perceptions of certain crafts and trades as being of low status",[17] so more entrepreneurial opportunities were open to them. Like others who did not speak Turkish, they suffered during the "Citizens Speak Turkish" campaign which started in 1928. "Arabs, Circassians, Cretan Muslims, and Kurds in the country were being targeted for not speaking Turkish. In Mersin, for instance, ‘Kurds, Cretans, Arabs and Syrians’ were being fined for speaking languages other than Turkish."[18]. In the summary translation of a book on Bodrum made by Loizos, it is stated that, even as late as 1967, the Cretans and the 'local Turks' did not mix in some towns; they continued to speak Greek and mostly married other Cretans.[19]

Greek perception of Cretan Turks

The Greek perception of Muslims in Crete used the terms "Turk" and "Greek" in a religious rather than ethnic or racial meaning (Turks themselves would have more readily used the term "Muslim" at the time). A Greek observer remarks that we are acquainted with extremely few cases of Muslim Cretan lyra-players as against Cretan Greeks (the very name for that instrument in Turkish language being Rum kemençesi - Greek kemenche).[20].

Cretan Turks in Lebanon and Syria

Today there are about 7,000 living in Tripoli, Lebanon and about 3,000 in Al Hamidiyah, Syria.[21] The majority of them are Muslims of Cretan origin. Records suggest that the community left Crete between 1866 and 1897, on the outbreak of the last Cretan uprising against the Ottoman empire, which ended the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.[21] Sultan Abdul Hamid II provided Cretan Muslim families who fled the island with refuge on the Levantine coast. The new settlement was named Hamidiye after the sultan.

Many Cretan Muslims of Lebanon somewhat managed to preserve their identity and language. Unlike neighbouring communities, they are monogamous and consider divorce a disgrace. Until the Lebanese Civil War, their community was close-knit and entirely endogamous. However many of them left Lebanon during the 15 years of the war.[21]

Cretan Muslims constitute 60% of Al Hamidiyah's population. The community is very much concerned with maintaining its culture. The knowledge of the spoken Greek language is remarkably good and their contact with their historical homeland has been possible by means of satellite television and relatives.[21]

Notable Cretan Turks

(in chronological order)

Among other notable Cretan Turks, highly nationalistic investigative journalist Emin Çölaşan, other notable names from the Turkish media such as İlhan Selçuk, his brother Turhan Selçuk, and Doğan Hızlan can be cited. Writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, alias Halikarnas Balıkçısı (The Fisherman of Halicarnassus), although born in Crete and has often let himself be cited as Cretan, descends from an Ottoman family with roots in Afyonkarahisar, and his father had been an Ottoman High Commissioner in Crete and later ambassador in Athens. Likewise, as stated above, Giritli Mustafa Naili Pasha was Albanian/Egyptian.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Elif Bayraktar. (full text) "The Implementation of Ottoman Religious Policies in Crete 1645-1735: Men of faith as actors in the Kadı court" (in English). Bilkent University, Ankara. (full text). Retrieved 2007-04-30. . See also (limited preview) Greene, Molly (2000). A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the early modern Mediterranean. London: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691008981. , in her treatment of a larger topic, with complete info on Crete for only two districts, Temenos and Pediada.
  2. ^ Henry Noel Brailsford (full text), an eyewitness of the immediate aftermath, uses the term "wholesale massacre" to describe the events of 1897 in Crete, in a definition corroborated also by other sources. The strictly applicable terminology awaits further scholarly research, in addition to those already made, on the basis of records left by independent observers, of documents available in the foreign ministries of a number of European powers, notably France, as well as of the Ottoman Archives and the sources already published by the Turkish General Staff (Genelkurmay).
  3. ^ (limited preview) Smith, Michael Llewellyn (1998). Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922. London: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 1850653682. , Chapter 5, p. 87. "In the eve of the Occupation of İzmir by the Greek army in 1922, there was in the city a large colony of Turcocretans who had left Crete around the time that the island was united with the Greek Kingdom."
  4. ^ Greene, pp. 39-44
  5. ^ Greene, pp. 52-54
  6. ^ Macrakis, p. 51
  7. ^ Demetres Tziovas, Greece and the Balkans: Identities, Perceptions and Cultural Encounters Since the Enlightenment; William Yale, The Near East: A modern history Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1958)
  8. ^ Filiz Kılıç. (full text) "Cretan Bektashi school in Ottoman Divan poetry" (in Turkish). Hacı Bektash Veli and Turkish Culture Research Center. (full text). Retrieved 2007-04-30.  (abstract also in English) Aside from those cited in the article, the principal men of letters considered to compose the "Cretan school" are; 1. Ahmed Hikmetî Efendi (also called Bî-namaz Ahmed Efendi) (? - 1727), 2. Ahmed Bedrî Efendi (? - 1761), 3. Lebib Efendi (? - 1768), 4. Ahmed Cezbî Efendi (? - 1781), 5. Aziz Ali Efendi (? - 1798), 6. İbrahim Hıfzî Efendi (? - ?), 7. Mustafa Mazlum Fehmî Pasha (1812 - 1861), 8. İbrahim Fehim Bey (1813 - 1861), 9. Yahya Kâmi Efendi (? - ?), 10. Ahmed İzzet Bey (? - 1861), 11. Mazlum Mustafa Pasha (? - 1861), 12. Ahmed Muhtar Efendi (1847 - 1910), 13. Ali İffet Efendi (1869 - 1941).
  9. ^ Summary translation: A slender sapling you are, freshly shooting beauty and grace you are, an affection for one's mind you are! The rose is in love with you, the nightingale is in love you. An uncommon beloved one you are! (note that "fidân" can mean "sapling" as a noun and "slender" as an adjective, and "âfet" has more than one meaning as its English equivalent "affection".)
  10. ^ For the lyrics in full, see Turkish Ministry of National Education web site
  11. ^ Prof. Theodoros I. Riginiotis. (full text) "Christians and Turks: The language of music and everyday life" (in English)., Rethimno. (full text). Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  12. ^ Chris Williams, "The Cretan Muslims and the Music of Crete", in Dimitris Tziovas, ed., Greece and the Balkans: Identities, Perceptions, and Cultural Encounters since the Enlightenment
  13. ^ (limited preview) Smith, Michael Llewellyn (1998). Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922. London: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 1850653682. , Chapter 5, p. 88. Some effort was made by Greece prior to the war to win Turcocretans to the idea of Greek government in Anatolia. The Greek Prime Minister Venizelos dispatched an obscure Cretan politician by the name of Makrakis to İzmir in the early months of 1919, and his mission is qualified a "success", although the Greek mission set up İzmir, "presenting a naive picture of the incorrigible Turks", is cited as describing "the various [Turkish] organizations which includes the worst elements among Turcocretans and the Laz people (...) as disastrous and inexpedient" in the same source.
  14. ^ Deniz Kandiyoti. (citation and first page) "Sex roles and social change: A comparative appraisal of Turkey's women" (in English). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1977. (citation and first page). Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  15. ^ Ferhat Kentel - M. Ragıp Zık. (full text) "Giritli Mübadillerde Kimlik Oluşumu ve Toplumsal Hafıza: Gündelik hayatın sosyolojisi" (in Turkish). Bilgi University, Istanbul. (full text). Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  16. ^ Yiannis Papadakis, Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide, 2005, ISBN 1-850-43428-X, p. 187;
  17. ^ a b Peter Loizos, "Are Refugees Social Capitalists?" in Stephen Baron, John Field, Tom Schuller, eds., Social Capital: Critical Perspectives, Oxford 2001, ISBN 0-198-29713-0, p. 133-5
  18. ^ Soner Cagaptay, "Race, Assimilation and Kemalism: Turkish Nationalism and the Minorities in the 1930s", Middle Eastern Studies 40:3:95 (May 2004) doi:10.1080/0026320042000213474
  19. ^ Fatma Mansur, Bodrum: A Town in the Aegean, 1967, ISBN 9-004-03424-2
  20. ^ A Greek point of view on Cretan Turks
  21. ^ a b c d Greek-Speaking Enclaves of Lebanon and Syria by Roula Tsokalidou. Proceedings II Simposio Internacional Bilingüismo. Retrieved 4 December 2006
  22. ^ List of Ambassadors "Tuerkische Botschafter in Berlin" (in German). Turkish Embassy, Berlin. List of Ambassadors. 
  23. ^ [1]Salih Zeki
  24. ^ [2]Karagioules
  25. ^ Yeni Giritliler Article on the rising interest in Cretan heritage (Turkish)
  • Molly Greene, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean, Princeton, 2000. ISBN 0-691-00898-1
  • A. Lily Macrakis, Cretan Rebel: Eleftherios Venizelos in Ottoman Crete, Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1983.

Further reading

  • İzmir Life magazine, June 2003
  • Saba Altınsay, Kritimu: Girit'im benim - novellized souvenirs ISBN 9789750704246
  • Michael Herzfeld, A Place in History: Social and Monumental Time in a Cretan Town, Princeton University Press, 1991
  • Michael Herzfeld, "Of language and land tenure: The transmission of property and information in autonomous Crete", Social Anthropology 7:7:223-237 (1999),
  • Richard Clogg, A Concise History of Greece, Cambridge University Press, 2002
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911), s.v. Crete; La Grande Encyclopédie (1886), s.v. Crète
  • Kemal Özbayri and Emmanuel Zakhos-Papazahariou, "Documents de tradition orale des Turcs d'origine crétoise: Documents relatifs à l'Islam crétois" Turcica VIII/I (5), pp. 70-86 (not seen)

External links


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