One of my favourite blogs is by Kathryn Gauci, author of The Embroiderer , set at the end of the Ottoman empire.
I’m delighted to reblog a recent post where Kathryn focuses on the early days of Ottoman oppression in Crete:
Part I: The events leading up to the Massacre at the Monastery of Arkadi, 1866.
On the night of November 7th 1866, Giritli (Cretan) Mustapha Pasha, two times Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire and ruler of Crete for over thirty years, left Rethymno with a regular army of 15,000 men and thirty canons for the Monastery of Arkadi, 23 km south-east of Rethymno. The monastery, which lies amongst the gently rolling hills of the Amari Valley, had become the focal point for the Cretan revolutionaries
The occupation of Crete by the Turks began in 1648 and for the majority of Cretans, Ottoman rule was preferable to the tyrannical rule of the Venetians. Once again, Cretans were openly allowed to worship in their own Orthodox faith and there was now the possibility for them to benefit economically, although this came at a cost as they were required to accept Islam. Under Venetian rule, the Cretans were not allowed to be merchants. Only Jews were exempt from those laws. Christians and Jews were allowed to buy land and to establish Turkish partnerships, especially with the Janissaries – the military corp. For those who were tempted to convert, one of the concessions was to enable them to live side by side with Turks within the city walls.
The first few years of the occupation saw many converts to Islam, partly for survival and partly for economic gain. For many, they had thought of their conversion as a token gesture until one day, the sunnetci, or circumciser reported to the authorities that many converts were trying to avoid this and he was given full power to enforce this. For those who did not convert, there were often mixed marriages between Orthodox women and Muslim men (never the other way round), and guests from both sides would attend the wedding celebrations. Laws were firmly in place to ensure that any children from mixed marriages were to be brought up as Muslims. For the majority of Cretans, the converts were frowned upon and in later years, when the converts were forced to attack their own people, these “terrible Turko-Cretans” as they were known, were considered to be more savage than the Turks themselves. Slavery was commonplace to the Cretans. It had become a way of life under the Venetians and it continued to be so under the ottomans. With their families constantly under threat, there had always been open resentment of slavery, and as the Turks became more creative in taxation, they burdened the Cretans until life was not worth living. It became a matter of freedom or death.
Under the Ottomans, reprisals against insurgents were commonplace and harsh. During this period of bloodshed, there were three great turning points and to this day they are still remembered with great clarity in Cretan ballads known as mantinades, sung throughout the island to the accompaniment of the Cretan lyre. The laments of the brave palikaria (brave young men), are as ingrained in the Cretan psyche as the Massacre of Chios, the deaths of the revolutionary leaders in Greece, and the brave Suliot women who close death rather than risk the wrath of the infamous Ali Pasha.
The first turning point was the revolt by the Sfakian, Yannis Vlachos, otherwise known as Daskaloyannis – teacher John. His uprising occurred in 1770 when Daskaloyannis, a wealthy shipowner, led some 2000 men to Candia (Herakleion) and besieged the Turks within the city walls. Daskaolyannis had earlier negotiated with the Russians and was promised support. After one month, the Russians failed to intervene and the Turkish army attacked forcing Daskaloyannis and his men into the mountains. For six months the Sfakians held out until it finally became clear the Russians would not keep their promise. This would not be the last time Crete was let down by foreign powers. To save his men, Daskaloyannis gave himself up to the Pashia of Candia. On the morning of June 17th 1771, he was flayed alive. His brother was forced to watch and as a consequence of the barbaric punishment, went mad.
To read more of this post, click here.
Note, where Kathryn uses the Ottoman name Candia for modern day Heraklion, I used the local term Megalo Kastro, meaning Large Castle in Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa.