by Heidi Trautmann
In this part we learn how Dr. Ayten Salih becomes doctor 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 prisoners 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, with 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 near 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 III
In Part IV we learn of her great work for Health Services in North Cyprus