The Ottoman army that besieged the Arkadi Monastery as such, was precisely multinational.
Its main body was the two large regular army units of reinforced regiments, numbering about five to six thousand men each. The first consisted of soldiers recruited from Anatolia and the Balkans, commanded by Mustafa Pasha’s son Salih Besim Bey and his son-in-law Suleiman Bey. It was the “Political Askeri”. The second consisted mainly of Egyptian soldiers. It was the “Misiriotiko Askeri” commanded by the Egyptian army chief Ismail Pasha himself.
Among the Egyptian units one (of Battalion level) was composed exclusively of Christian Copts.
For many years after the battle, visitors to the area found at a point northwest of the Monastery precinct, small piles of rifle balls.
It was right on the rampart that the Egyptian Copts had built at the beginning of the battle. As Christians they could not shoot at the Monastery. So when they bit the paper cartridge to load their weapons – a process necessary for the front-loading rifles of the time – they let the ball fall to the ground as well. Thus firing bulletless shots without being noticed.
The Copts, according to recorded testimonies of survivors, showed a different behavior overall, both during the battle and towards the prisoners afterwards. Years after the Holocaust, the Turkish-Cretan Hasan Makasis told the commander Georgios Vlastos the following incident.
“When we entered the “Bank” I also took a tartalo (s.s. booty). A tray that was hung in front of the icon and there the monks put the candlestick. But as soon as I went outside I forced him because I saw Misirlides (i.e. Egyptians) striking with their bayonets a Turk who was holding things from the church»
Also absolutely characteristic is the following event noted by many autoriders, Christians and Muslims. After the cease of the deadly conflict, a monk identified as Monk Schizaheilis appeared in the courtyard of the monastery leading a group of Turkish Christians who had promised to give him life, in the places where the precious objects had been hidden by Abbot Gabriel. First the monk indicated the spot where the bells were buried, but while he was leading the group of looters to another spot, he was ambushed by a group of Copts and fell dead, without the local Turks reacting.
Another incident was narrated by the elderly priest Giannis Palierakis to the Metropolitan of Crete Timotheos Venieris during the 1920s.
Palierakis as a teenager was one of the defenders of Arkadius and one of the few men who were captured. He recounted what he experienced on the first night of his captivity in Rethymno.
“That night I wanted to urinate but I was afraid to say it. But I decided and said it to the purpose. The soldier told me to get out but I told him I was scared (p.s. there were local Muslims gathered seeking revenge for the loss of their relatives in the battle). But he, with great courage, takes his hand to his chest and shows me a golden cross. He takes him out kisses him and gives him to me to kiss and calls me “Christian Kofti” not caring if he saw him or if his officer heard him».
The “Turkish Cretans”
Another section of the Ottoman army was that of the “disobedients” or “Basibuzuks”. It was about the old Turkish tradition of unsolicited volunteers who accompanied each army always acting as light infantry (reconnaissance) but also deliberately as looters and terrorists to subjugate the local population.
In Crete, of course, there were no “Bassimouzouks”. That is to say, there was no such Balkan patchwork of delinquent unemployed who lived only by warfare and looting. Mustafa Pasha’s “miscreants” in Arkadi were the most fanatical Cretan Muslims and Albanians, likewise Muslims, who had been present on the island since the time of the Egyptian occupation (1830-1840) exclusively manning the Ottoman Gendarmerie.
In any case, the behavior of the local Muslims in Arkadi was very different. First of all, they fought more bravely – a fact on which all the testimonies converge – than the entire Ottoman army, while the complaints with their fellow Christians who were rescued are reminiscent of Homeric epics:
-“Teslim (Bow-surrender) baby to save yourself!”
-“We have gunpowder to w-fight you for a month!”
-“If we go inside we will leave no one alive!”
-“Work hard, we have a table set for you!”
At the same time, without there being a relevant order from Mustafa Pasha, they “attempted” after the occupation of the Monastery to turn the Catholic Church into an Islamic mosque. A local Muezzin climbed onto the roof of the Temple and began reciting the relevant verses from the Koran. (The change…of use of the Temple was never ratified by Mustafa Pasha nor the High Gate).
Turkish Cretans were the ones who broke their promise to 37 outstanding Christian warriors from the villages of Zoniana, Krana and Livadia who were defending the Bank of the Monastery after the blasting of the main gunpowder store. They promised to protect them if they surrendered their weapons. But as soon as this happened, they burst into the hall and massacred them all, except one youth who was saved by falling at the feet of a regular army officer.
On the contrary, however, a Turkish Cretan found in the ruins and later handed over to her relatives the only survivor from the great explosion, a little girl of four at the time. A Turkish Cretan officer of the Tacticus, he picked up the banner of the Monastery from the ruins and returned it a few years later.
“I am from the Greek Army”
Turkish Cretans tried to save Constantis Daskalakis – son of the heroic Daskalakaina – from execution, even though they knew he was an extremely dangerous warrior, declaring that he is not a Helladite but a Cretan. Daskalakis wore a national guard uniform of the Greek Army and was part of the Corps of 17 Greek volunteers of Guardsman Dimakopoulos. The 11 were killed during the Battle, but the survivors were to be executed on Mustafa’s orders, unlike the local rebels who were ordered not to be harmed. In fact, a fellow villager of Bairakagasis (a Muslim chieftain) from the village of Amnatos in Rethymnon, approached him before the execution squad and shouted “Aren’t you my villager, Daskalakis?”
Constantis Daskalakis, however, refused in practice to be saved, declaring “I am of the Greek Army”.
Similarly, two Turkish-Cretans from the village of Adele (s.s. the village of Giamboudakis), Mehmet Spathakis and Youssouf Aliatzidakis, tried to save Nikolaos Galinakis who was also wearing a uniform of the Hellenic Volunteer Corps by declaring to the head of their execution squad:
“Oske (No), he is a Cretan from Rethemnos.” Upon Galinakis’ refusal, Mehmet Spathakis insisted:
“Yada, Nikolis, are you talking about bread?” Aren’t you the one who sewed me this way?”
The young rebel, however, persisted and was executed with spears along with Daskalakis and the Heroic Guard of the Monastery Ioannis Dimakopoulos.
Tactical Defeat – Strategic Victory
In Arkadi, contrary to what is widely known, there was not one explosion, but three. The first and strongest was the one in “Tsepane” (wine cellar) which had been converted into a gunpowder warehouse and was also the deadliest. The second was the one in the Igoumenium on the ground floor of which a quantity of gunpowder was also stored and the third, of lesser power, was caused by monks fighting in the cells of the south wall of the Monastery.
Mustafa Knightli Pasha, of excellent education of Albanian origin and already Grand Vizier at the High Gate, was sent by the Sultan to Crete as commander-in-chief just nine days after the outbreak of the Revolution of 1866. He had already proven his abilities on the battlefield, since he was the the only Ottoman officer who, during the revolution of 1821, had achieved important victories against the revolutionaries in Crete, and for this he bore the honorary title “Giritlis” (“Cretan”).
He campaigned with a strong army against the Monastery, nearly 15,000, not because he did not know the small number of his garrison (about 250 rebels and Hellate volunteers) but because he believed that he could pull into the small plateau of Arcadius and crush the entire rebel Army under Colonel Panos Koroneos. Which did not happen – for various reasons – resulting in the important Ottoman tactical victory in Arkadi turning into a strategic defeat in a short time, as the sacrifice of the defenders caused a new wave of philhellenism in Europe and the USA and strong pressure in favor of Union of Crete with Greece.
Thus, although the Great Cretan Revolution, thanks to the military and diplomatic skills of Knightli Mostafa Pasha, was not successful, it gave the Cretans a constitution distinct from other regions of the Ottoman Empire, the “Organic Law” (Christian Judges, Public Servants, free bearing of arms, Schools of all levels, mixed Gendarmerie, etc.). Every violation of its provisions led to new revolutions (1878-1889-1897), until Autonomy was granted (1897) or which, after the Greek victory in the Balkans, was transformed into the Union.
-Timotheou Veneris, “The Arkadi through the Ages”
– Pantelis Prevelakis “Pandermi Crete”
– Vasileiou Psilakis “History of Crete”
– Arkadi through the archive of Pavlos Vlastos (Aspasia Papadakis – Day 23-10-2016 Rethymnon)
Text: George D. Papadakis