Written by Αpostolos Vranas
Teacher of English Language /Translator
From within the fog covering the period that marks the connection of prehistory to history, there blossomed the first and most emblematic civilization of the land that we have since called Greece, the ‘Minoan’, the very ancient (3650 to 1400 BC, though the dates are not generally agreed on ...) Cretan culture named after its mythological founder Minos, whose name means according to one theory ‘Ascetic’ and resembles the names of other mythological founder-kings.
If there is an element worth retaining from this distant Minoan past in the present article, it is Sir Arthur Evans’ idea that the Minoan cities were in general unfortified as the Cretan navy of the time was powerful enough to keep away whichever ambitious invaders; if this theory truly had been holding for some centuries, it was obviously the Myceneans that broke Crete’s naval shield at about the 15th or 14th c. BC.
Still, from the geostrategic point of observation, we could always define Crete as a large landmass that ‘blocks’ to a great extent the exiting from the Aegean Sea southwards and is, simultaneously, adequately isolated (for the transportation means of the time) from the continental Greece or other large islands.
Examples that Demonstrate Crete’s Geostrategic Importance within the last 120 Years
We will leave the Minoans in the books of History and Archaeology and investigate the recent past for examples of Crete’s geostrategic significance: the Cretan State, the situation that led to the epic Battle of Crete and the installation place of the infamous S-300 missiles.
The Cretan State (1898-1908)
As the only positive consequence of our humiliating defeat at the Greek-Turkish War of 1897 and an out-of-control slaughter of Greeks and British nationals, an autonomy was granted to Crete within the framework of the Ottoman Empire under the administration first of four admirals (British, French, Russian and Italian), then of Prince George (second-born son of the Greek King (of the time) George I) of Greece and, after his collision with El. Venizelos, of the Greek politician Al. Zaimis. This odd protectorate collapsed and was unified with Greece both because of its weakness and, ultimately, due to the sweeping of all Ottoman territories as a result of the Balkan Wars.
It was an unconventional attempt by the British to gain a foothold by intervening between the two logical ‘owners’ of the island as, being a maritime/naval power, Britain always kept a consulate and military presence in Crete, acknowledging its significance for maritime commerce and naval operations.
A Hopeless Idea of the British before the Battle of Crete
As a result of the unchecked advance of the Wehrmacht and the capitulation of Greece in April of 1941, British, Australian, Newzealander and few Greek troops were moved hurriedly to Crete to elude captivity. The absence of any Air Force presence – Greek or Allied, the sparse heavy armament and the weak naval support put Crete in a terribly vulnerable position against a possible German invasion. On the other hand, the British generals had nicknamed it ‘the aircraft-carrier of the Mediterranean’ and W. Churchill considered a ‘crime’ the loss of the island due to ‘not sufficient bulk of forces’. His statement proved exaggerated as the island was conquered (May 20th – June 1st 1941) despite the heroic resistance of its defenders and, mainly, the local population.
Yet, the British strategic choice was an idea that Hitler and the German High Military Command (ΟΚΗ) had enthusiastically adopted, looking towards the establishment ‘... of an operational base from which to carry on the air war in the Eastern Mediterranean. ...’ (Vick, 1997).
The Long-Drawn Story of the S-300
The purchase of the infamous S-300 was a huge armament scandal which originally aspired to serve the needs of the Unified Defense Dogma of Greece & Cyprus. The involvement of Ministers characterized by their ignorance and of suspicious ‘raptors’, such as I. Sbokos, led to a long-drawn negotiation ‘adorned’ with Turkey’s threats having as a final result (during K. Simitis’ prime ministership) the purchase of the missiles by Greece and their installation in Crete, very close to the Souda NATO base.
Despite the fact that the solution finally chosen had nothing to do with the original planning, it could have shifted the balance in the Aegean and would have turned Crete into a strategic control hub and a powerful deterrent for the ‘friendly’ neighboring country. Unfortunately, as the later events proved, there occurred tragic management mistakes with the result that the aircraft detection technology of these missiles leaked to various ‘allies’.
Today, Crete is our Country’s largest island and the most populated one with 623.065 inhabitants during the 2011 census (slightly less than double those of the 1911 census). It is a relatively rich region, based on agriculture, animal-breeding and tourism and, before the crisis, the average income of its inhabitants exceeded a little the corresponding national average.
EEZ and Deposits
Crete’s current geostrategic position lies in the expansion of the Greek EEZ to the south to a common boundary with the Egyptian EEZ and in the rumors about vast hydrocarbon deposits. Attempting to balance out this expansion, Turkey claims … Gavdos through an incomprehensible diplomatic ‘rationale’!
A possible element of pressure towards Greece and a means of diminishing its strategic importance would be the ‘imposed’ reception of illegal immigrants and refugees of the current wave on the island despite the stated refusal of its people. Naturally, arguments in favor of this move could easily be found (e.g., for reasons of equality and the relief of areas that have offered (and suffered) disproportionally by the immigration influx); yet, those in favor of refusing, beyond the truly weak argument of not hurting the Cretan tourism, propound their opposition to the settlement of potentially hostile population to such a geo-strategically important area.
Silly Imported Ideas about Seceding from Greece
The realization of Crete’s geostrategic significance and of its economic prospects and the foreseen drilling for the hydrocarbons on the one hand and the advent of the protracted economic crisis on the other brought forth an idea obviously motivated from ‘centers’ abroad: the secession of Crete from Greece and the establishment of an ‘independent state’ having as a ‘flag’ that of the Cretan State. The extent of how much ‘imported’ these fabrications are is revealed by the manner of their projection through ‘accidental mistakes’ in commercials; as to how much the Greek ‘governments’ are in it is demonstrated by the fact that they did not even fine the companies who dared propose such idiocies. Because, naturally, the concept of Crete is indivisible from that of Greece and the Cretans are and feel one hundred per cent Greeks!
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