The Cretan Turks, Turco-Cretans (Greek: Τουρκοκρητικοί, Tourkokritikoi), or Cretan Muslims (Turkish: Giritli, Girit Türkleri, or Giritli Türkler) were the Muslim inhabitants of Crete (until 1923) and now their descendants, who settled principally in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt as well as in the larger Turkish diaspora.
Most Cretan Muslims were local Greeks whose ancestors had converted to Islam, largely voluntarily, in the wake of the Ottoman conquest of Crete. This high rate of local conversions to Islam was similar to that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, and Bulgaria; perhaps even a uniquely high rate of conversions rather than immigrants.
They continued to speak Cretan Greek, but the Christian population labeled them "Turks" as a synonym for "Muslim". They were often called "Turkocretans":
Among the Christian population, intermarriage and conversion to Islam produced a group of people called Turkocretans; ethnically Cretan but converted (or feigning conversion) to Islam for various practical reasons. European travellers' accounts note that the 'Turks' of Crete were mostly not of Turkic origin, but were Cretan converts from Orthodoxy.
Sectarian violence during the 19th century caused many to leave, especially during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, and after autonomous Crete's unilateral declaration of union with Greece rule in 1908. Finally, after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922 and the Turkish War of Independence, the remaining Muslims of Crete were compulsorily exchanged for the Greek Christians of Anatolia under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).
At all periods, most Cretan Muslims were Greek-speaking, but the language of administration and the prestige language for the Muslim urban upper classes was Ottoman Turkish. In the folk tradition, however, Greek was used to express Muslims' "Islamic--often Bektashi--sensibility".
Under the Ottoman Empire, many Cretan Turks attained prominent positions.
Those who left Crete in the late 19th and early 20th centuries settled largely along Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coast; other waves of refugees settled in Syrian cities like Damascus, Aleppo, and Al Hamidiyah; in Tripoli, Lebanon; Haifa, Israel; Alexandria and Tanta in Egypt. While some of these peoples have integrated themselves with the populations around them over the course of the 20th century, the majority of them still live in a tightly knit communities preserving their unique culture, traditions, Cretan Greek dialect and Turkish language. In fact many of them made reunion visits to distant relatives in Lebanon, in Crete and even other parts of Greece where some of the cousins may still share the family name but follow a different religion.
Although most Cretan Turks are Sunni Muslims, Islam in Crete during the Ottoman rule was deeply influenced by the Bektashi Sufi order, as it has been the case in some parts of the Balkans. This influence went far beyond the actual numbers of Bektashis present in Crete and it contributed to the shaping of the literary output, folk Islam and a tradition of inter-religious tolerance.
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