Eleftherios Venizelos (23/08/1864 - 18/03/1936)
He was born in Mournies in Chania, in 1864 and was the fifth child of a merchant. He spent his childhood in Chania, but because his father participated in the Cretan revolution, the family fled to Ermoupolis, Syros, and later Kythira. Returning to Chania, he completed his primary education there and his secondary education at Antoniadis high school in Athens; afterwards, he started working in the family business. In 1881, he enrolled in the Law School of University of Athens, where he graduated from in 1887. In 1889, he was elected representative of the Cydonia prefecture for the Cretan Parliament. After a period of turmoil in Crete, during which Venizelos fled to Athens, he returned to Chania and married Maria Eleftheriou – Katelouzou in 1890.
In 1897, Venizelos toured in the prefecture he was a representative of, and returning to Chania, he saw the city ablaze. He immediately took action and united with a partisan group in Akrotiri. The next day, the revolutionaries declared the annexation of Crete to Greece and gave their declaration to representatives of the Great Powers. Meanwhile, the Greek government sent troops to Crete to help the revolutionaries. Soon afterwards, the Greco-Turkish war broke out, which forced the Greek government to retreat its troops from the island. A series of Revolutionary Assemblies was organized, during which people planned on declaring their autonomy. Venizelos strongly resisted this idea and was removed from presidency; the declaration of autonomy was voted.
After many negotiations, the Great Powers initially accepted the plan for autonomy. In the end, it was decided that the Ottoman Empire keep a form of sovereignty over the island, and Prince George of Greece would be its High Commissioner. In the following elections, Venizelos was elected and played an important role in the drafting of the Constitution. He soon clashed with Prince George, who took decisions without asking for the ministers’ opinions. Venizelos believed that Crete should become an autonomous principality, so that annexation with Greece would be more subtle afterwards. Prince George did not listen to his views; Venizelos gave his resignation twice but was not accepted, but was fired soon afterwards.
After a politically troubled period, Venizelos and his followers declared the annexation of Crete to Greece; the Great Powers did not accept it and sent an ultimatum to the revolutionaries. After the deadline passed, the Powers declared martial law; Venizelos and his followers eventually retreated and in 1906, it was decided that the international army that was present on the island be removed and the management be passed to Greek officials. Although the Greek government and Prince George were against this, Venizelos and the successor to the throne Prince Constantine supported it.
Venizelos was later called to Greece to form a government, known for his political action in Crete. Soon afterwards, the Balkan Wars erupted, followed by World War I. Venizelos played a very important role throughout this period, conflicting numerous times with Prince Constantine on the type of action Greece should take. After 1915, and even though Venizelos had promised to remain neutral, Bulgaria decided to attack Serbia, with which Greece had a defense pact. Venizelos wanted to honour the pact, but Constantine was against it and forced the former to resign, dissolving the government. After the end of World War I, Venizelos played a significant part in the Peace Conference of 1919 in Paris, and gained the reputation of a formidable statesman. Nevertheless, in the election of 1920, Venizelos suffered a huge defeat and withdrew from politics.
The Great Disaster and the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922 called Venizelos back to action, and was the key peace negotiator with the Turks. He won the elections of 1928, his greatest achievement being the reconciliation with the Turks. In the following years, the Greek Republic suffered severe blows and Venizelos was forced to exile. He left for Paris and died in March 1936. His burial was in Akrotiri, Crete, attended by a huge number of people.