Subpage to the page by Dr. Christian Heinze

Excerpt from a biographic interview given by Dr. Ayten Salih Berkalp to Heidi Trautmann

on 5th August, 2012, and contained, in English language, in the homepage of Heidi Trautmann.

Das Interview ist in deutscher Sprache abgedruckt im Buch von Heidi Trautmann, "North Cyprus My Way - Nordzypern auf meine Art", Selbsverlag o.J. (2013), im Kapitel "Dr. Ayten Salih Berkalp - Ein Kapitän ein Leben lang - Die Lebensgeschichte einer Türkischen Ärztin und Sport Champion", S. 302, 307 ff.

Part I of the interview (which is skipped here) tells the origin, youth and education of Dr. Ayten Salih Berkalp. She was born in Famagusta in 1934 as the 5th of six children of the then Turkish Cypriot Police Inspector (later Assistant Police Director) Salih Bey and his Turkish Cypriot wife Melek. She was educated in Cyprus and Istanbul, to become a medical doctor.

The following parts II through IV of the interview, reproduced here with the permission of the author Heidi Trautmann, cover the struggle of the Turkish Cypriots to resist Greek terrorism from Christmas 1963 onwards and back to normality from 1974 onwards.

Part II of the interview:

When Dr. Ayten, having completed her medical education and training, began her professional life in Cyprus in 1962, she did not know what lay ahead of her.

“I started working at Nicosia General Hospital, the old one in the Greek sector, as a pre-registration doctor after a short stay with my family re-united in Limassol, my brothers had also returned from Istanbul and Ankara respectively. My father was not feeling well, he had retired in 1955 as chief inspector when he was asked to work under his former sergeant – we come to that later in the text - but had taken up work again at the British Base. In 1961 he died.” He was a much respected and disciplined man and was loved by his family. He must have passed on his understanding of discipline and responsibility to his children.

Dr. Ayten Salih now being a registered doctor came back to Limassol in 1962 to work at the Limassol Turkish hospital. “Beyond my clinical duties I had to examine and treat patients, do duty at the emergency clinic once a week and as assistant anaesthetist in the theatre. I regularly visited and controlled the Turkish health centres in the villages and on such occasions made health checks and routine vaccination to school children in regular intervals. I also had to visit and check the incoming ships in Limassol harbour once a week as a sort of a harbour doctor." When she was asked by the other rather stout doctor whether she would be able to climb the rope ladders to the deck of the tankers, she said “I promise you, better than you would!”

Her professional life would have gone on like that, had she not been in great demand by the surgeons to do anaesthetics, the other specialist was sent to Denmark for training, so her obviously excellent knowledge was needed. “I cannot do it, I am not a specialist.” The Health Minister Mr. Niazi Manyera came to the hospital and tried to persuade her but she insisted: “ …only when I can do my speciality training in anaesthetics!” This was one of the important crossroads for Dr. Ayten and thus she went back again to Nicosia to start her specialty training as assistant anesthetist. That was in 1963, a crucial year in the story of Cyprus, one of many.

“When I came to Nicosia, I met Dr. N. Ünel, who besides having one of the three private clinics, was responsible for the republic’s health affairs,” Dr. Ayten explains, “a very important man too, he had organized many useful things such as the law that the hospital staff consisted of 30% Turkish Cypriots. He also convinced me that it would be better for me to start my training in Nicosia and do her diploma abroad only later.”

So she returned back to the hospital where she had worked as a pre-registration doctor. The doctor in charge was Dr. Fessas, the father-in-law of Nicos Sampson, the head surgeon was Dr. Marangos who eventually saved her life in the turmoil to come. The health minister was a Turkish Cypriot. Dr. Ayten moved into a small flat inside the building and began a new part of her working life as assistant anesthetist, the final degree she would later finalize in England. That was the plan.

Sunday, December 21 dawned. Inside the hospital theatre operations were going on.

“Gunshots were heard. Eoka gunmen were attacking the Turkish Cypriot community and occupying public buildings searching for them. They entered the hospital and flooded into the theatre room while an operation was going on with Dr. Marangos, myself and others present. Dr. Marangos ordered them out for reasons of sterility and refused to let me go. ‘We are trying to save one of your men’. There was a Greek wounded man on the operating table, so they left.”

I can see that Dr. Ayten is reliving this moment, her eyes are not with me. “Turkish Cypriots could not reach the hospital, the way to it was blocked off. The wounded were treated in clinics in the Turkish Cypriot sector. I knew that they urgently needed blood from the blood bank which was at the General Hospital only. It had been given order that the blood was only available for Greek patients. Chaos reigned.”

“I tried to get permission to obtain some blood for the Turkish Cypriot clinics, 5 bottles were granted. Four Turkish policemen came to the hospital with a permission signed by Markarios after Dr. Kücük had spoken to him of the urgent need.

“On Monday morning, two young Turkish Cypriots came to the theatre to seek help from us, one male nurse going off duty and one patient dismissed from hospital, they were scared to death and did not know what to do and where to turn to. I eventually took them to my flat to hide them from the searching gunmen. They were later transferred to Türkan Aziz’s, the matron’s apartment for better protection outside the hospital building. This measure did not help them either, the matron found them later sitting in her living room, dead, shot, machine-gunned, sitting there.”

There were other brutal attacks and killings aimed at Turkish Cypriots taken from the hospital and taken right to their death.

Dr. Ayten would not leave without the staff and stayed on with them, they were finally locked into two rooms in the nurses’ quarter, 22 persons: 13 sisters and trainees, the cook and his grandson, midwife, matron, one messenger and Dr. Ayten. Sleepless three nights. They all didn’t know what would happen. They could not change clothes, nor had they any regular food.

Finally, they were freed by the intervention of Archbishop Markarios himself who had come with 30 policemen to save the Turkish Cypriot medical staff from further attacks.

“We were shaken, especially the matron who we had to give medication after the terrible experience in her living room. She turned the whole responsibility for the staff over to me as the spokesperson. The photo of us being freed from the nurses’ home with Markarios helping us was in all media. I was not trusting this man first; where was he wanting to take us so I demanded that the British High Commissioner would be informed; ‘It is Christmas eve, the 24th of December, he said to me, you will not find anyone. I am not only the President, you know, I am also a religious man. In the end both of them reassured me and we left the hospital to go with Markarios to his palace.”

In the palace they were given a conference room to stay overnight. How could you trust such a man who had caused so much trouble for your people, I ask her. “I have often been asked this question, the fact is that he has saved our lives, that is the simple truth and for that I am grateful.”

In many books I had read about these days following Markarios’ political step of restricting the rights of his Turkish Cypriot partners in the government by publishing 13 amendments to the constitutional law. However, I have never spoken to a direct eyewitness before and Dr. Ayten’s description of the events in those days were touching me deeply.

“On December 25, 1963, we crossed over to the Turkish sector in a bus from the British High Commioner’s office. Local and foreign media were surrounding us. Our authorities approached me to come to a house in the Turkish sector. I followed them. It was the house of the Turkish Cypriot military doctor. A horrific sight. The doctor’s wife and their three children shot dead in the bath tub. It shook me terribly and I cried. For the first time after several sleepless nights, always in danger of losing our lives, I had a breakdown.”

I had listened to a man I was interviewing who was involved in the events of these days from a different point of view: the Turkish Cypriot resistance group was trying to fabricate a transceiver to be able to reach the people, and December 25 was the day BRT voice was sent out for the first time.

“I returned back to duty at the Turkish Adiloğlu Clinic still in the clothes I had on since December 21. Nothing could be bought, all shops were closed. It was here and in the other three private clinics that the Turkish Cypriot were being treated since the beginning of the killings. Tradesmen and pharmacies of our community had selflessly been delivering the most necessary. I slept on an emergency bed until I could stay with some friends. Within three months the old burnt out cigarette factory near the Saray Hotel was turned into a hospital, everything makeshift, what could one do; there were no building materials, nothing. No medicine, no vaccine which we desperately needed, especially for the refugees from Kücük Kaymakli who were living in tents in Hamitköy.”

In wartimes we find people who courageously excel themselves and regard the service on the helpless as their first duty, confronted with the brutal negligence of basic needs.

“There was a Canadian doctor, Dr. Leclair, who realized our problems when he came to this refugee camp in Hamitköy where he saw small children freezing and suffering; he also knew of our lack of the most necessary to treat them and that no human assistance would be coming from the Greek side, so he ordered medical requirements from Canada, had them flown in by military planes and brought them personally to the hospital by car.”

The months went by without any sign of appeasement. “On April 24, 1964 the Greeks had attacked Turkish Cypriot positions in the St. Hilarion area and left behind them many dead and wounded men. Dr. Ayten Salih volunteered to go to Boğaz where Dr. Nalbutoğlu had set up a hospital in a coffee shop, a building you can still find on the old Boğaz road near the petrol station, on the road that leads to Dikmen.” I passed there the other day when I was on my way to the Near East University and it made me shiver that right here and above me in the mountains fights were going on and Dr. Ayten had to go there in her duty as a doctor.

“For three years until 1967, the period I stayed at this first aid hospital, I went to visit the Turkish Cypriot positions, taught them first aid, gave them the drugs they needed, brought the dead bodies back and took the wounded down to the hospital for treatment and if surgery was required further on to the General Hospital in the old city. Often I walked all the way but would take a jeep, even a butcher car as an ambulance car, if one was available. When Greek had taken over some Turkish Cypriot positions, they would often refuse to hand out the dead and wounded, although I was accompanied by UN soldiers, Canadian soldiers.”

How did she live in the isolated place, I asked her, and was she not afraid?

“Before I left for Boğaz I had been able to procure some warm trousers for the still cold weather in April and later I was given a pair of pyjamas by Güner Nejat, so soft, so nice, and a pair of proper shoes, as I came with my operating shoes on, the only ones left. Afraid? Yes, sometimes, but when you are responsible for people you put your fears aside and do what you have to do, you simply react in a situation of emergency.” I studied Dr. Ayten’s face and imagined her joy to receive a pair of ordinary pyjamas and I told her so. “I do remember the softness and the luxury of it. I even started knitting to have something new for a change. Every four months I had the duty to visit our health centres in other districts and villages and stay there for one month for medical checks and treatment of the population of places such as Geçitkale, Akınçilar, Paphos, Lefke and Erenköy, on a rotating basis”.

Was there any free time left for her and what did she do with it, I asked.

“You won’t believe it, but sometimes I played volleyball with the Turkish Cypriot fighters’ team in Boğaz, as I had done before down in Nicosia with the hospital team. Sports and physical training held a most important part in my life and often enough it kept my sanity intact, balanced me out in those times of horror. It was also necessary to keep up the morals of the fighters and the people in general so I joined Kemran Aziz’s Chorus and we gave concerts. It made such a difference in the hardship of those years. Another rather private hobby of mine was reading. Twice between 1960 and 1975 I have lost all my books, books I have bought from the little money I had, books I loved. Later I never had the courage again to build up another collection as I feared I would loose them again. But I still read a lot, either for gaining information or just getting lost in another world of fiction.”

In 1967 the situation in Cyprus had calmed down to a certain degree of normality and Dr. Ayten Salih continued where she had started in 1963, that is to finalize her specialty training in anesthetics.

End of Part II. Part III of the interview interview given to Heidi Trautmann tells how Dr. Ayten Salih becomes in charge of the Limassol Turkish Cypriot hospital and how she gets her people through the gruesome troubles of 1974.

In 1967 the situation in Cyprus had calmed down to a certain degree of normality and Dr. Ayten Salih continued where she had started in 1963, that is to finalize her specialty training in anesthetics. “The British Council had arranged for me to go to Wales University and hospitals in Cardiff to do my diploma in anesthetics and another six months at London Westminster Hospital. It was a most inspiring time for me, to be with international colleagues, to experience new ways and equipment and to exchange views and problems in one’s own country.”

Dr. Ayten returned to Cyprus, to Limassol finally, where she was at home; she made herself feel at home again, refurbishing her flat that had been ransacked in 1963 during the riots.

“I started my work back at the Turkish Limassol hospital as a specialist in anesthetics, and in 1971 I was appointed doctor in charge. I picked up my life again with both hands; with my family and friends around in Limassol it was easier. There was some social life possible again and – of course sports. I became the chairman of the men’s football club, the D.T.B (Doğan Turk Birliği) in 1970; and in the same year I set up a girls’ volleyball team but it only lasted for one year as we did not have enough opponent teams. I was more successful with the Girl Guides and became their chairman in Limassol since I have been a girl guide already in Victoria School in Nicosia and in Istanbul in secondary and lycee.”

A couple of relatively quiet years had passed for Dr. Ayten and her staff at the hospital when the troubles started again in June 1974. The peace talks and conferences had been continuously going on when Nicos Sampson and his Eoka men planned a coup to overthrow the government. President Markarios fled, first to Paphos, then to USA. The Eoka gunmen were unleashed again on our island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots who opposed Eoka died. Chaos reigned.

Dr. Ayten Salih puts me into the picture of what happened in Limassol and the area around, up to Paphos, pictures of inhumanity, scenes she often was an eye witness of: “Turkish men were taken prisoners and left in the stadium at great heat without any shelter for eight days; later they were transferred to two schools. Women and children had fled to the hospital grounds but returned to their own ransacked houses or fled to the security of Happy Valley in the British base area where Turkish Cypriots lived already in tents coming from the villages around Paphos and all around the base area. In the end there were approximately 13.000 refugees who had to be fed and cared for. Five villages in the Paphos area were not conquered by the Eoka people and their followers, they had defended themselves bravely but one, Ayden village, was made to give up, many were shot and wounded, those were then transported to the British base by Dr.Halim, husband of my matron Cemaliye.

One of the commanders of the Turkish Cypriot fighters in Paphos could not get out and had to hide; he sent message to the hospital through secret channels that he needed help. We organized help and one of the doctors, Dr. Halim, said he would do it, the man should wait in front of a certain house clad in pyjamas and he would take him up in his car as a patient. The rescue operation succeeded.” The rescued commander was taken to Happy Valley in the British Base Area to the authorities of the Turkish Cypriot refugees, Mr. Ziya Rizki who arranged with the British commander that the man would be flown out of Cyprus. “One day, much later in Nicosia, I met this man again and he thanked us for having saved his life.” Many refugees were taken out the same way via England to Turkey, and by the backdoor, by boat, they came back to Northern Cyprus to join their people again.

The Turkish army had landed in Cyprus on July 20, and on August 14, 89 male civilians in one of four villages such as Taskent had been rounded up and shot dead. There was one young man that had survived the massacre, had walked to the first Turkish Cypriot village Mutluyaka, and with the help of Dr. Ayten was rescued and transported by an International Red Cross man to Happy Valley and then by helicopter to Nicosia. Much later, not so long ago, a former Greek Cypriot Eoka activist confessed his participation and confirmed what the young man had told.

“Slowly it was agreed that people in my field of activity could be transported to the North, first the patients, pregnant women, sick women and children, teachers and students; then eventually the prisoners whom we have fed and medically cared for, were exchanged against Greek risoners in the North. The transport was usually done in busses. The taxi fares were incredibly high, up to 200 pounds for those who hadn’t a travel permit.”

There was not only the Turkish Cypriot side that suffered from the brutal coup Nicos Sampson had unleashed, it were Greek Cypriots themselves who were murdered by him and his gunmen. Dr. Ayten was an eyewitness: “I was on the balcony of my house when I watched one evening, it was the 15th of July, 82 busses of the Greek Cypriot army rushing to Limassol from Paphos to assist their comrades, waving flags and arms. They ran into an ambush and were killed. Only 15 busses passed under my window on their retreat, and as I later heard in the news, the rest of the soldiers in these 15 busses were ambushed again near the Kolossi castle and had disappeared altogether, never to be found again. If you consider that one bus load is equivalent to 40 passengers you can figure out for yourself how many Greek Cypriots were involved in this massacre. They did not disappear in Turkish prisoner camps as so many believe or were made to believe.”

Nicos Sampson was nominated president on July 15 but the situation collapsed under him eight days later. He was succeeded by Glafkos Clerides with whom our Rauf Denktaş was leading the talks, for an exchange of prisoners, for clearing the aftermaths of the Eoka coup.

“In Limassol we organized food parcels, blankets and all the necessary medicala supply to be delivered daily to the prisoners in cooperation with our Red Crescent. Important prisoners were kept in the basements of police stations and questioned for information. You can imagine what questioning meant; information was beaten out of them. Some of my relatives were among them.”

“It was an unbelievably hard time also for us at the Limassol Turkish Cypriot hospital as we had to face new problems every single day; many refugees had come to stay with us which was forbidden, but I declared them as hospital’s staff; I told the ‘authorities’ that I needed them to help with all the wounded, in the kitchen, as cleaners, as grave diggers. They tried to get to the North, to the Turkish side; you cannot imagine what these refugees from all the villages were going through; some fled on foot over the mountains. You could hardly get through the road blockades. Some were hiding on trucks in wheat sacks, between cases of Coca Cola. Most of those were captured, shot or sent back. There were Turkish Cypriot people who tried many times to reach safety.”

A big problem for Dr. Ayten was to get necessary supplies for her hospital, medicine, vaccine and money to run the place which was only available for her in the North. For every step she took she needed a permit from the authorities because there was no freedom of movement in the south for Turkish Cypriots. There was also a regular smuggling traffic of letters and parcels, money and things like batteries for the radios going on. They often had their pockets full of letters containing money to hand over to the prisoners, and it happened more than once that they handed the money to the wrong person with the same name, so they had to pay the other out of their own pocket.

“So, every month I went up to Nicosia with my matron Cemaliye. One day, when we were on our way to get our monthly permit renewed by the General Director of Police, we were stopped by the military although we had the Red Crescent flag attached to the car. Usually we were not stopped. They took us to the police station in Atalasa. I knew the chief interviewing us; it was a former sergeant under my father’s command in Famagusta, who had - in the newly established republic – obtained a high position and asked for my father to join him as an assistant which my father embittered deeply; he refused and finally retired.

I explained to the commander why we needed to go to the north and why we needed the permit and as he was doubting me: ‘how will I know whether you will return’, I said, ‘you knew my father’, and he looked at me quizzically and I replied: ‘just look at me’ and he suddenly exclaimed: ‘you are the daughter of Salih Effendi!’.

‘I don’t leave my people behind, you can trust me!’ So we got a long-term permit to travel to and fro. The matron had her husband and two children left behind in Limassol, so it was easier for her to get the permit to travel with me.”

The winter was drawing close and everybody feared the cold weather, talks were forced to come to a solution of the immediate problem before health problems would become serious, weaken the refugees living in tents. A big demonstration demanding the international right of refugees, was organized, ith Dr. Ayten Salih among them carrying the banner “We want to go to the North, we want freedom” Masses of people moving through the streets of Limassol, accompanied by the international media.

The talks between Glafkos Clerides and Rauf Denktaş resulted in an exchange of all the prisoners. In the end, later in 1975, the rest of the population of Turkish Cypriot villages were transported to the North in UN trucks, they had to leave everything behind.”

There is a book I have read about just such a story, Stavrokonnos, a village ear Paphos, evacuated by trucks, all the village people taken to the North, in the book a big collection of photos of all the villagers. A most depressing story.

We come to one of those days in 1975, when Dr. Ayten and Cemaliye had to go up to Nicosia on their monthly visit to the North where she was told by the authorities not to go back to Limassol again as it was too dangerous. It was the 20th of July 1975. The hospital in Limassol was more or less empty. Her job was done. She felt, that she could stay in safety now, she had done her duty as the captain of her hospital.

End of Part IV of the interview given by Dr. Ayten to Heidi Trautmann. In part IV we learn of her great work for Health Services in North Cyprus.

It was the 20th of July 1975. The hospital in Limassol was more or less empty. Her job was done. She felt, that she could stay in safety now, she had done her duty as the captain of her hospital.

The first thing she did when she accepted that she would stay in the Turkish sector was taking a short leave in Turkey, her first one after a long time, to repair her shattered physical condition; on her return she had to replace Dr. Ali Atun, doctor in charge at the Famagusta Hospital who was just as exhausted as her. It was a time for her to think about the future, how and in what position she could serve her country best.

“On Oct 1, 1975 I was appointed Assistant Director in the Health Service Department with the director and the undersecretary over me. I was responsible for the public health section and I did this job for three years. During this time I tried to reorganize Health Service: we established new health centres especially since Turkish settlers had come into the country, one health centre for ten to twelve villages; i.e. we had managed to establish about eight centres in the beginning. All these places had to be visited, the staff trained and controlled. The health Minister and I often went on these control visits together.”

In 1975, the construction of the new General Hospital was taken up again after four years of construction standstill. The health minister B. Nalbutoglu had fought for the continuation and finally the new building was opened in 1978. Ali Atun was the Minister of Health this time in 1978. The construction of the hospital was financed by Turkey, the equipment donated by USAID and UN but channeled through Red Cross and Red Crescent authorities. “It was a great day for all of us and the hospital was named after the doctor who had fought for it for so long. B.Nalbutoglu Hospital.

In 1978 Dr. Ayten Salih became Assistant Undersecretary for four years; and in 1982 Undersecretary until 1991 when she retired. “I saw my duties in improving the health system in our country and to establish new units to the general hospital. For this purpose I travelled to many countries, to listen to experts at symposia and conferences, I studied the conditions in hospital units abroad to learn what was required for the establishment of our own units. How can I teach before I know what to teach? Is it not so?” I agree with her totally and thanks to her attitude she pulled through so many urgent projects. “The first two important ones were the anti-malaria project in 1976 and anti-tuberculosis project in 1978-79. The Greek side had complained internationally that the new Turkish settlers had brought in tuberculosis and Malaria. Malaria was actually eradicated in Cyprus thanks to Dr. Aziz, the father of Matron Aziz in 1948 by draining wetlands and standing waters. But regular methods were required to keep it under control, so spraying of any standing waters every ten days became mandatory, especially in times when the mosquito larvae were developing. It became a governmental practice and was controlled by inspectors of health who were assigned by the health centres and health department. I myself put on my yellow rubber boots and undertook the controlling many times. Today the municipality controlled spraying is not efficient as it aims to kill the adult mosquitoes only - and thereby kills good insects too - it should, however, be aimed at the larvae in the standing waters.”

“With respect to tuberculosis we managed for a team from Turkey to come; they did screens of 80 000 people with micro films; then a dispensary was opened in Nicosia Health Centre; a lady doctor, Dr. Aydın, was sent to Turkey for training and she became doctor in charge of the Lung Disease Hospital in Gönyeli. Regular health checks were finally carried through at schools, first at the age of six with control checks after six years again to see if there was any increase. There wasn’t one up to today.”

“One big project of ours was the fight against Thalassemia, a hereditary sickness especially in Mediterranean countries. Initiated by Dr. Modell from England a committee was formed in 1978 to fight the sickness – children hardly survived 12 years of age.”

Why by a doctor from England, I asked? “Because many Cypriots lived in England and she had recorded the cases. In the beginning our patients were sent to England for screening and examinations. But there was also a scientific committee in Turkey who cooperated with us for the first years.”

I include here an abstract to emphasize the importance of the project written by Dr. Boskurt who was a pediatrician and became an hematologist for the project.

Abstract : Thalassemia was a serious health problem in Cyprus. The first scientific studies on thalassemia started in 1976 after a seminar which was organized by the Turkish Hematology Association. At the end of the seminar it was decided that a thalassemia prevention program would be effective to control this problem as thalassemia was a hereditary disease and possible to prevent. The aim was to stop the affected newborns and provide good treatment facilities to the existing thalassemic patients. In 1979, high risk families started to be screened for thalassemia. In 1980, premarital screening was made compulsory by law. In 1984, prenatal diagnosis was started with fetal blood sampling techniques. DNA techniques replaced fetal blood sampling in 1991. After prenatal diagnosis started in 1984, affected birth rates showed a sharp decrease in contrast to an average of 18-20 cases per year before the implementation of the "Thalassaemia Prevention Programme." Between 1991 to 2001, only five thalassemic babies were born, one in every 2-3 years. No thalassemic babies have been born in the last 5 years. Thalassemic patients live longer with a better quality of life because of more effective treatment modalities. A great majority of the patients are over 25 years old (66%), living and working as the normal population. Thirty-eight percent of them are married and have children.

Source: North Cyprus Thalassaemia Centre, Nicosia,Cyprus. Boskurt G.

The new Thalassemia Building in Nicosia was opened on 14 March 1988 – the construction took 4 years – and the 2nd International Meeting on Thalassemia was held at the same time with participating colleagues from Turkey, England, France and Italy/Sardinia. Another proud day for an unrecognized country!

“Today the disease is under control and Thalassemia couples can lead a normal life, can marry and have D.N.A. tests made when women are two months pregnant with the important support of Dr. N.Yesilada. A parents association was formed in 1978 but when they wanted to be included in the international association the Greek side opposed it with the reason of us being an illegal state.” Bitterness in Dr. Ayten’s words.

In her time as Undersecretary other units were added to the hospital : First they set up two plants to produce O2 and N02 gases. Then Old People’s home in Lapta in 1976.

In 1981, Psychiatry and Neurology hospital (with the support from the US and Dr. Vamik Volkan from the University of Virginia, a Turkish Cypriot, I had the chance to meet for an interview in 2010); see his report on the matter:

In 1982, a Neurology operating theatre and a dialysis unit for kidney failure were implemented; in 1983, a Coronary Care Unit; in 1986 a Chronic Hospital and Lung Disease Hospital in Gönyeli; In 1989, a Radiotherapy unit for the oncology department was established; in 1990 a spastic children centre was opened. The construction of the buildings was realized with the financial help of Turkey. The equipment was given by USA through UNHCR; the British High Commissioner and Turkey helped with medical training courses for the staff for diverse disciplines. A great achievement.

But such units would not work without educated doctors, sisters and technicians and so Dr. Ayten Salih furthered the staff to obtain the required specialist education. “I fought for it and got people sent to England, to Turkey, Beirut, USA, Sardinia and to Australia.

I myself had gained the knowhow and the training because I knew that I can only teach and initiate things when I submitted myself to this philosophy.” In 1981 she took part in a 3-months hospital management course in England. She became a member of the IHF - International Hospital Federation, the membership of which she gave up only recently.

“In order to run health service properly, much more had to be done in those years: a State Laboratory was built for the regular examination of water, food and forensic science, and a new lab was established as State Laboratory near Ledra Palace, which today is in the Kaymakli area. Production plants for Oxygen and Nitrooxygen were developed since the supply was irregular and we could not expect any assistance from the Greek side.”

Besides all her duties she did voluntary work in many fields which I suppose left her no time for privacy.

1970-71: Chairwoman of Doğan Türk Birliği; football club (the first to be chairman in a men’s football club.
1970-1974: Chairwoman of Turkish Crescent Society of Limassol; Chairwoman of ‘Save the children Foundation’ in Limassol; Chairwoman of the Girl Guides Committee in Limassol;
1969-71 Chairwoman of Civil Servants Committee in Limassol;
1976 Association of Turkish Medical Doctors – (General Secretary)
1978-1994 Member of Sports Committee in Ministry of Sports
1980-1994 Member of Turkish National Olympiad Committee
1981-2010 Member of IHF International Hospital Federation
1982-1990 Member in British Sport Medicine
1984-1989 Member of WHO Working Group of Thalassemia (first time a Turkish Cypriot became a member)

In 1991 she retired as Undersecretary and from so many other obligations. A life time dedicated to her country. Within 15 years a functioning health service was put into operation across the island, projects were successfully carried through, to existing hospitals new additions were added and health centres erected, and when she retired there were 14-16. Today many private clinics are available besides the state-run hospitals.

After her retirement Dr. Ayten Salih put away her agendas and directed her main interest on to her family, partly living in Turkey, partly in Australia.

“After my retirement I undertook a long visit to my relatives in Australia and travelled across this very beautiful country with them. I enjoyed my stay of six months very much. The news reached me that my niece had a kidney failure and I went to Turkey for four years to care for her. I am glad I was able to help her and other relatives being a doctor.”

When Dr. Ayten returned to Cyprus in 1995, President Rauf Denktaş called upon her and appointed her to become first lady member of the Public Service Committee to appoint civil servants. She held this position for nine years.

The years went by and she spent the years in Turkey with her family and in Cyprus where she has many friends. Life has become more quiet, although many institutions approach her and honour her for her achievements, her sports friends, her medical colleagues and people like me who want to learn about her life. A life spent under most difficult conditions. I had asked her what kept her going in those years and if she did not know fear and exhaustion, and she replied: “Oh, I was afraid and desperate sometimes, but when you have a hospital to run and people depending on you, you have to put your anxieties aside and do what has to be done. And, I had the support of so many and I would want to express my thanks here and now because without them I would not have been able to do my duties as I did them: I am grateful to my parents for sending me to Turkey for higher education; I am grateful to the authorities for their support in getting my specialty degree and management courses. I want to thank I.H.F. for accepting me as a ‘C’ member enabling me to participate in medical meetings in various countries. I also want to thank the Turkish Cypriot authorities which believed in me and appointed me as an Undersecretary where I was able to get through many important projects. I want to thank all Turkish universities and medical associations from Turkey to have their meetings, conferences in North Cyprus, also to the German Sport Medicine Associations, and all those who helped with Thalassemia and other projects. I also want to thank my staff friends and all those with whom I worked. Thanks to them and with their help I was able to serve my country. And, I want to thank you, Heidi, for spending so many hours to listen to me…”

This is my story of Dr. Ayten Salih Berkalp’s life, a woman I have one day met at a reception on the occasion of International Women’s Day. It was her magnetic personality that drew me to her, her erectness and the wisdom in her eyes. In the many hours I spent with her I learnt to appreciate her not only as the most dedicated doctor she is, but also as a great human being. I also learnt from others I spoke to about her that she is highly respected and will never be forgotten. A Turkish Cypriot from Limassol whom I know said to me: “Without Dr. Ayten Salih and her matron Cemaliye so many of us in Limassol would not have survived. She was with us in the darkest moments of our life.”

When I asked Dr. Ayten, if there was anything else she would have liked to do in her life and hadn’t done, she said: “Oh yes, I think, I would have been a very good tennis player!”