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Mar 02 2013

Albanians Mutiny in Crete

On the face of it, any government seeking to control a troublesome population must first ensure the loyalty of those forces it will rely on to keep the population in check and ensuring that these forces actually get paid would probably, by most, be considered to be a priority. Unfortunately for the Ottoman authorities on Crete in March 1897, they had neither the money, nor possibly the will, to pay the ‘old’ gendarmerie, a paramilitary force of Albanians specifically recruited to serve on Crete to maintain law and order. (Lack of money may be accounted for in part by the actions of the previous Vali, the Ottoman Governor-General of Crete, who on 14th February 1898 with the Cretan state in crisis after the landing of Greek troops, “…having paid himself and Christian followers out of the public chest the amount due to themselves as salaries, took refuge on board the Russian iron-clad “Nicholas I”, and subsequently fled to Trieste in the Austrian Lloyd’s steamer which left that evening.”[1])

Complaints of the inefficiency of the Albanian gendarmes had resulted in 1896, in the recruitment of a ‘new’ force of Montenegrin gendarmes, initially under the command of Colonel J.H.Bor, Royal Marine Artillery, and with this intake  the gendarmerie consisted of three companies under the command of seven European officers; a total of 225 men made up of ninety six Albanians,  eighty Montenegrins, fifty Cretan Christians, forty eight of whom promptly deserted to the rebels when the insurrection broke out, and thirty Muslim Cretans.[2] Proposals to reform the gendarmerie in order to make it a more representative body consisting of Cretan Christians and Muslims, agreed as a part of the Halepa Pact in 1878 but never implemented, were also being discussed by 1897 and any such reform would undoubtedly have impacted particularly on the jobs of the ‘old’ gendarmerie; another possible cause of the Albanians’ discontent.

On the morning of 1st March 1897, Bor reported to the acting Vali that some forty men of the ‘old’ gendarmerie had refused to do their duty and were demanding that they receive their arrears of pay.[3]  A British reporter in Canea at that time stated in his diary that the dispute was the fault of ‘a few ruffians’ and that the arrears in question were some 18 months pay.[4] During that day Bor saw a number of the mutineers individually and tried to persuade them to return to work, promising that they would be paid. On two occasions that day he also went to the gendarmes barracks, in the company of Colonel Suleiman Bey, the Albanian commander of the gendarmes, to speak to the men en masse in an attempt to persuade them to resume their duties, but to no avail: On the latter occasion an altercation broke out between Suleiman Bey and one of the mutineers when Suleiman Bey pushed the man who was being insubordinate and talking excitedly; an altercation which came to an end when the mutineers grabbed their rifles and said ‘they would have no force used.’ [5] The mutineers also attempted to kidnap one of their own officers, Major Mehmeh Agha, who had to be rescued from the barracks by Major Craveri, an Italian officer serving in the gendarmerie.

The following morning, 2 March, Bor was summoned to meet the Admirals of the Great Powers and went to the Italian Battleship ‘Stromboli’ to do so.  In his report to the Governor-General, Bor states that the Admirals approved his suggestion that, there being rumours of the mutineers intending to commit acts of violence in furtherance of their pay dispute, the gendarmes be disarmed at bayonet point by troops from the Great Powers. Accordingly Bor returned to the gendarmes barracks accompanied by a force of Italian and Russian sailors under the command of the Italian Captain Amoretti. On reaching the barracks Bor first went inside, accompanied by the British reporter Hulme –Beaman, and attempted once more to persuade the mutineers to return to work, promising them three months pay at once if they returned to their duty. This offer was refused.

Bor and Colonel Sulieman Bey then went outside and only at this point did Bor inform Suleiman Bey of the plan to disarm his men. Having collected the International troops Bor and Suleiman Bey then re- entered the barracks, Bor going with one file of men to the refectory on the left hand side of the door, Suleiman Bey with his troops going to the one on the right. According to Bor’s account, three shots were fired at them almost immediately on their entering and the foreign sailors immediately returned fire from outside the doors. The gunfire continued for about a minute until the gendarmes retreated from the room and called out their surrender. The gendarmes, having suffered five wounded, one of whom later died, were then taken out of the barracks one by one and disarmed, this presumably being done by gendarmerie offices since Bor states that the foreign sailors did not enter the building.  One Italian seaman was wounded but probably the most significant loss was the death of Colonel Suleiman Bey who was fatally wounded during the shooting and who died half an hour after. Bor concluded his report by stating that in spite of the failure of the original plan to disarm the mutineers at bayonet point, the cause of the shooting was the mutineers firing on the foreign troops and he was happy with the arrangements made by the Italian and Russian officers[6]. Hulme-Beaman’s account gives a slightly different version of events. According to him, Major Craveri, described by Hulme Beaman as Lieutenant Craveri,[7] lead the Italian sailors into the first room and there grabbed one of the mutineers standing guard by the door. At this another mutineer fired at Craveri where upon the hence Italian sailors returned fire. Hulme-Beaman alleges that the Italians, owing to”… the natural excitability of the Italian character” were the only foreign troops to open fire, the “…more phlegmatic Russians” not doing so since their orders were to use their bayonets only. Hulme-Beaman’s disdain for the Italians’ actions is further shown when he states: “…I scarcely need to say however that we did not get the Iron Cross for Valour awarded by King Humbert to several others who, I believe, were never inside the [barracks].”[8]

A French take on the shooting.

The mutiny signalled the end of the Ottoman gendarmerie on Crete and within days the existing gendarmerie, both “new” and “old”, were disbanded; the British Foreign Secretary George Curzon reporting to the House of Commons: “We understand that the Gendarmerie Commission, consisting of English, French, and Italian members, paid off the new Gendarmerie on the 11th instant. There still remain in Canea the Mussulman Gendarmes of the old organisation, numbering 49 officers and 535 men.”[9] Their place was initially taken by four separate bodies, one for each of the sectors of European rule, until in 1899, Crete by now being an Autonomous State within the Ottoman Empire, the High Commissioner, Prince George, ordered a further reorganisation. The four bodies were subsequently merged into one modelled on the Italian Carabinieri and commanded by Major Craveri.



[1] Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty 24 February 1897. House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.2

[2] Rodogno D. (2012) Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914. Princeton University Press. F.N. 37. Chapter 9. p.331.

[3] Colonel Bor to the Governor –General of Crete 3 March 1897. In inclosure No.3 Captain Custance to Rear Admiral Harris.  House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.12.

[4] Hulme-Beaman.A.G. (1898) Twenty Years In The Near East. Metheun. London. p.258.

[5] Colonel Bor to the Governor –General of Crete 3 March 1897. In inclosure No.3 Captain Custance to Rear Admiral Harris.  House of Commons Papers. [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. p.12.

[6] Ibid.p.13

[7] This is not the first instance of Hulm-Beaman ‘demoting’ an officer. Throughout his account, he refers to Colonel Bor as Major Bor; the latter being his substantive British rank, the former his rank within the gendarmerie.

[8] Hulme-Beaman.A.G. (1898) Twenty Years In The Near East. Metheun. London. pp.260-262.

[9] House of Commons Debate. Hansard 16 March 1897 vol 47 cc764-8

 

1 comment

3 pings

  1. Alethea Gertel

    Thanks!

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