Sunni Cretan Greeks are a small community mainly located in the town of Al-Hamidiyah, Tartous governorate. In 2004 according to the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics Al-Hamidiyah had a population of 7400, Sunni Cretan Greeks constituting around 3500 of town’s population. Al-Hamidiyah is located about 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) north of Lebanese border and 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) by car from Tripoli (Al-Mina), Lebanon another town where Cretan Muslims can be found. Cretan Muslims are composed of converted Cretan Greeks and Turks that settled on the island during Ottoman control.
Creation of Al-Hamidiyah and the settlement of Sunni Cretan Greeks in Syria can be traced back to 1897 during the Greco-Turkish War. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II ordered a creation of town for Cretan Muslims fleeing Crete in fear of being targeted by Cretan Christians after Ottoman Army withdrew from the island. Town of Al-Hamidiyah got its name after the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
Location of Al-Hamidiyah in Tartous governorate.
Al-Hamidiyah town isn’t an urban area consisting mainly of one story high stone houses separated by dirt roads. Besides stone houses Al-Hamidiyah has a mosque and a school as well as ridiculously high amount of posters belonging to the former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and current President Bashar al-Assad, they can be found at almost every wall and shop window. This strange phenomenon where whole towns are covered in posters of Bashar and Hafez al-Assad can be observed throughout the government-held territory.
Video dated April of 2014 showing celebration of Eid al-Jalaa (Evacuation Day) in Al-Hamidiyah.
Sunni Cretan Greeks have integrated in Syrian society but still remain in contact with their origins nurturing Greek culture and speaking Cretan Greek. Cretan Greeks were able to preserve their identity for over 100 years by marrying almost exclusively with other members of their community and by putting family as their main priority. Children are taught Greek at an early age, encountering Arabic mostly in schools. Newer generations of Cretan Greeks in Syria know how to speak Greek but are unable to read or write in Greek alphabet. This is primarily due to lack of Greek schools in Syria, in the past two Greek language school existed, one in Damascus which closed in 2003 and one in Aleppo the “Prophet Elias” school with teachers coming from Greece, it is unknown if the Greek school in Aleppo is still operational.
Cretan Greeks maintain contact with Crete through relatives still living on the island out of which some are Christian and through watching satellite Greek TV stations. The proximity of Cyprus and Greek culture allows Al-Hamidiyah’s Greeks to visit when needed to ease the homesickness and nostalgia. Even 120 years after departing from Crete, Cretan Greeks in Syria display deep affection towards their island of Crete but most of them are not able to visit it due to their visas being denied by Greek embassy which has actively discriminated them because of their religion.
A number of Cretan Muslims fought for Syria against Israel in “Six-Day War” in 1967 and were awarded for their bravery.
Short, old documentary about Cretan Muslims in Al-Hamidiyah.
Sunni Cretan Greek community in Al-Hamidiyah and Al-Hamdiyah itself haven’t been really directly affected by the war and destruction as other places in Syria. However, since the start of the war Al-Hamidiyah received a large number of refugees fleeing from Idlib, Homs and Tel Kalah creating economic crisis as the number of refugees coming in Al-Hamidiyah keeps increasing. Like other parts of the country Al-Hamidiyah experiences regular electricity outages. Al-Hamidiyah was affected by the “Damascus Water Crisis” in December of 2016 and January of 2017 because the town receives its water from Al-Fijeh spring, Wadi Barada, Damascus governorate. Every three days for a couple of hours hot water comes from Al-Fijeh spring to Al-Hamidiyah.
In 2013 pro-government page based in Al-Hamidiyah, Tartous claimed Syrian soldiers from the town “exposed” Greeks of Al-Hamidiyah for betraying Syria and its “system” that accepted them and treated them better than Syrians and even gave them more land than Syrians in agricultural reform. “Report” continues by saying that Greeks took up weapons, attacked civilian population in Al-Hamidiyah, looted and burned their homes and shops. Following these alleged unjust crimes by Greeks against civilians, hatred arose between Greek and Arab communities in Al-Hamidiyah. In the end, “report” threatens Greeks of Al-Hamidiyah stating that they (pro-government Arabs) will forcefully “return” them to Crete in the same boats they arrived in, full “report” can be found here.
Besides this there are reports about 30 shops owned by Greeks in Al-Hamidiyah being looted and burned, for that reason checkpoints have doubled in town and armored vehicles are stationed in the vicinity. National Defense Forces have allegedly committed several robberies in Al-Hamidiyah.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has sent several aid convoys to displaced people in Al-Hamidiyah, however, alleged reports again suggested that National Defense Forces looted part of one convoy under the pretext that families of martyrs deserve it and sold it later. Allegations against NDF continue stating that they threatened those who distributed aid to Greeks of Al-Hamidiyah forcing locals to smuggle them aid during the night. Keep in mind that these allegations against NDF can’t be confirmed, they are added here because there isn’t much info about destruction and chaos related to Al-Hamidiyah during the war and several NDF fractions have in the past displayed thuggish behavior and committed crimes.
Sizeable number of men from Al-Hamidiyah are fighting for the Syrian Arab Army, in 2014 Town Council of Al-Hamidiyah stated that 22 soldiers were killed, six kidnapped and six injured during the war. Number has risen since then but it’s impossible to put an exact estimate, at least one soldier from Al-Hamidiyah died during the last battles for east Aleppo.
Video from June of 2016 showing Al-Hamidiyah.
Photo of Al-Hamidiyah’s area. Source: Al-Hamidiyah News
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