The life story of a Turkish Cypriot woman doctor and sports champion, presented as a serial in five parts
By Heidi Trautmann
Part I: (1934 – 1960) - The educational years and first Fenerbahce women’s team with five championships
A captain leaves his boat last, always…..this is what you learn when receiving the ship master’s certificate; this is what you learn when you decide to become a doctor, when you are certified to be a doctor in the service of mankind on the basis of the ancient Hippocratic oath which today comes adapted to modern thinking and much shorter but the basic meaning is the same:
I swear by Apollo the Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods, and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art – if they desire to learn it – without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken the oath according to medical law, but to no one else.
I will apply dietic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep myself holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honoured with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
The acceptance of the high morale position of her profession was with Dr. Ayten Salih Berkalp through all her life; it became her code of practice and often enough her stronghold in the many difficult times she has witnessed and lived through. But there is more to it than the fulfilling of the Hippocratic Oath. Dr. Ayten Salih is a born leader, conscious of the common good, or rather the common best, and the common best has been her motivation by all means, as we will see while I unroll her life story. And this is my motivation: to write down a life story I call ‘a life lived under the highest morale standards of humanity’ and I pay my respects to this woman whose main motive was to help her people as long as she lives. I am most grateful that she entrusted me with her life story and the use of her rich photo archive.
When Salih Bey, Inspector of Police looked out of his office window in Famagusta he could overlook the street in which the train station was, and not far away was his house in front of the Kutup Osman Teke, at the end of a forest. He lived there with his wife Melek and his children. It was still a peaceful time in 1934, his youngest daughter Ayten was just being born in the hospital next door, the fifth of their six children. He thought that his children brought him luck because with every child born he was appointed to a higher rank in his career. He was a man of high morals and highly respected among his seniors as well by the men under him.
Little Ayten spent her childhood years in Famagusta until her 3rd year in elementary school,
when her father was sent to Limassol for a higher position, where he became Chief Inspector of Police and later Assistant Director. In Limassol she joined a mixed Turkish school and in sports she had the chance to show her talents as football player against boys, she tells me laughingly. From the annual reports she showed me I could see that she was an excellent student although she did not spend her free time studying.
“I was a very attentive student and fast learner in class, so I had ample time to do sports and I initiated my friends to go along with me. Sports was my favourite pastime, swimming, athletics, running, volley ball and later when I was in Turkey, basket ball and rowing. I was hardly at home, spend my time on playgrounds; often we went right across to the Greek area to get to a proper playground. On our school grounds – it was during the years of World War II - across our school yard were open trenches which we kids used to exercise in long jumping. You see, nothing would hold us back.”
I believe that this energetic girl just couldn’t sit still and wanted to measure her strength and her limits, and she loved group activities. What did your parents say to your rather unbound life, you must have been out of the house all the time with your activities in sports, I asked her.
“My parents were very liberal and open, also the British way of life did a lot to determine our views and education in general, for me, as well as for my sisters. Just imagine, my sisters Letafet and Kiymet were among the first Turkish Cypriot women on stage as the acting and singing Salih Sisters and often enough I joined them. I took part in plays at school.”
So she was interested in theatre, I asked her.
“At the end of the 60s, beginning of 70s, I directed three plays at our theatre in Limassol advised by an actress who had come from ‘Ilk Sahne’ in Nicosia. You must consider our situation, the situation of our Turkish Cypriot community being isolated with no access to entertainment and in order to lift the morals of our people our theatre group decided on such social events as theatre plays which was just as important as health care. My sister Letafet had become a journalist and playwright and so my connection to the theatre was very close anyway.
Later in the 1980s, Lefkoşa Municipality Theatre under the directorship of Yaşar Ersoy - they had just opened their own stage – presented me with an award for lifetime achievement.”
The only Turkish Cypriot Secondary School was in Nicosia, so Ayten Salih became a live-in-student at the Victoria Girls School with walls around. I have copied one of her last reports and again she had best marks in all disciplines. What precious documents, these reports from 1948-1949 and I handle them with utmost care.
“I saved these papers when I lost my home for the first time in 1963 when soldiers had ransacked all Turkish Cypriot houses, thrown everything out of cupboards and shelves, poured liquids over them; it was disgusting. It was not the only home I lost and again I saved nothing but some papers and photos.”
“The question arose - when it was time to go to lycée - what would I do one day after my basic school education was finalized and I discussed it with my friends, my teachers and my parents; as I had leading qualities and was good at school, everybody said: you must become a teacher, a literature teacher. But by the advice of my father I decided for medicine because there were very few Turkish Cypriot doctors. But there was a problem, in order to go to the university in Istanbul, I needed a level of education which was not available at that time for Turkish Cypriot girls in Cyprus; instruction in biology, chemistry and physics was not foreseen, but these subjects were a pre-requisite when entering the medical faculty of the university. There was only one way left for me and that was to do the lycée in Istanbul as well, before entering university. One of my teachers was from Çamlica Kiz(Girls) Lycée and so I decided to go there too. To adapt to the different instruction scheme I would have to repeat one year which I did.”
In 1949 she went to Istanbul, finally, a young girl of 15 years of age. How exciting for her to see the Bosporus… “You cannot imagine how I felt when I saw the many Turkish flags from top of the minarets and from the masts of the boats…how often during the British reign had we asked our teacher to walk by the Turkish Embassy to see the Turkish flag, you know…”
A question of identity? “I don’t know, perhaps; there was the common language…and we were still under British rule and a minority.”
How superfluous the repeat year at the Çamlica Lycée as she had excellent marks and during the time others spent over their homework she would be doing sports, and there were many possibilities given to an active girl like her. She was a group sports girl and she would train with her comrades in volleyball and basketball – her first encounter with basketball was in the lycée in Istanbul. “We would often go and see the Fenerbahce men’s teams play. We also wished to play in a club, and one day – that was in 1954 when my education at Çamlica was drawing to an end, I went to talk to the trainer of the Fenerbahce basketball team and asked if he would teach us basketball as well. Ok, he said, we start on 1st of September. A proud moment: the very first girls team at a sports club, and at such a famous one, was being founded.” Later more sports clubs would have women teams in Istanbul: Galatasaray, Besiktas, Moda, PTT etc. and with their foundation the first women’s tournaments have started, first in volleyball, then in basketball. Ayten Salih was 20 years of age.
She started her official sports career in 1954 and when she came back to Istanbul from her school holidays early to meet her commitments, she called on her comrades to join the club and the training in volley ball and in basketball; and I must mention this expressively, they did the matches in shorts!
It was a very intensive time for Ayten because she enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine at the Istanbul University in the same year, played volleyball with the university team and still held a job at the old Çamlica School as Assistant teacher.
“The results of my entrance exam for medicine were very good, so I started with dentistry for the first three months, and as I was attending only lectures which interested me for my choice discipline, such as anatomy, I was left with free time to do my training.”
Ayten and I were sitting for many hours to speak just about her sports career and the excitement of winning. During the six years at the Istanbul University she played for Fenerbahce and toured with them in Turkey, Teheran and Germany, there in Munich and Saarbrücken. Their team was made much welcome everywhere they went; in Germany they offered her to continue her studies in medicine in Germany. “I was very tempted but it would have meant some more years lost because I would have to learn the language first. I was so grateful to my father that he supported me to become a doctor that I could no longer waste any time. He also supported one of my sisters and my two brothers.”
They had won many championships in volley and basket ball, there were often two plays a day. “We were fit as a fiddle, you would say!” And so it doesn’t take wonder that Ayten Salih was winning the Atatürk running competition in 1958. “We had started as a group from Atatürk Museum in Sisli where many Greek people lived. Knowing how to balance our strength we could speed up as necessary and I reached the goal first, a team friend was second and also as a group we won the first prize. You cannot imagine the cheers coming from the watchers, women hanging out of their windows, it was a wave of enthusiasm on which we were carried away.”
“But this was not all as you would think. Fenerbahce had a rowing club as well and we went to the Bogaziçi branch for rowing. You cannot imagine the pleasure it gave us to row in the Bosporus, it was something very special.” The reward for all her efforts came when she was given the title of ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ in 1958. It is something to be proud of, not only for her but also her sports club, her family and friends and her country Cyprus. “I played my last volleyball game in 1960 in Izmit, near Istanbul. We had won six championships of Turkey’s Volleyball Cup and five at the Istanbul League. I was captain of all women teams at Fenerbahce and it makes me very proud to hear just recently that Turkey’s Women Volleyball Team was the best team in Europe, I heard it in the news.” Dr. Ayten Salih Berkalp is still a most honoured honorary member of Fenerbahce Association in Cyprus, and she follows the sports events with the same intense interest as before.
When she came to Cyprus she tried to initiate the idea of volley and basketball but met with little interest in the first years. 1960 meant goodbye for her to Istanbul but the city did not mean to let go of her so easily; there was the 1960 revolution and everything closed down, also the universities, and she had to wait to pass the last two exams before her graduation. There was a general curfew and we could not go anywhere. It was on December 6, 1960, the year her homeland Cyprus had won its independence.
End part I
In part II we learn about her first years as a doctor in Cyprus and her involvement in the 1963 fights when chaos reigned…