1800-1899 A.D. Assyrian History

1850-1914: Mereyam Basmajy: A Story of a Great Lady

by Mazy Basmajy. Forwarded by Richard N. Frye.

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001 08:49 pm CST

A story of a Great Lady as told by her granddaughter, Mazy Basmajy.

Mereyam Basmajy was born in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in about 1850, to Assyrian parents, Mereyam and Muski Namoosh, a couple of wealth and influence. At the early age of 15, she married Jacob Betterbed also of Diyarbakir, a prosperous shopkeeper. They eventually had a family of five sons and one daughter. They owned two homes in Diyarbakir and a farm in the country that produced vegetables and livestock.

In 1895, there were rumors that there would be pillaging and killing of the Christians, many of whom were warned by their Turkish friends. However, these warnings were ignored by the Christians since there had never been any problems with the Turks. Not long after these warnings, the killing and robbing began and Mereyam's husband, Jacob, was killed in his shop. She was home at the time with her two sons, daughter and a nephew. Suddenly, the door to her home was broken in and her courtyard filled with a mob of Turks brandishing swords and hatchets. In the meantime she hid her valuable jewelry in the food sacks stored in the basement.

Fortunately, she recognized among the crowd, a huge Turk who her father had befriended many years ago. She called to him by name and she told him who she was and he immediately raised his sword over his head and told the mob that he would kill anyone who touched Mereyam and her family. He took them to his home and protected them for two days. On the third day, he took them to the Assyrian Church where they were safe.

Before taking them to his home, he asked Mereyam if she had any jewelry,knowing that a Christian woman of means would have such items. Not fully trusting him, she told him she had none therefore losing some of her wealth: gold, jewelry, and ornate headdresses. This courageous lady saved five sons and a daughter.

During the year 1899, Mereyam at the approximate age of forty, with her family, found her way to America by way of Istanbul and Marseilles. They settled in Paterson, NJ where they had extended family.

In 1900, when her eldest son Issac became ill, she left for California with him, believing that the climate there would be helpful. They left the rest of the family in the East. Unfortunately, her son passed away in California and was buried there. Neither one could speak English.

Said Basmajy, a distant cousin of Mereyam's, arrived in America in 1897 through Ellis Island at the age of seventeen. He was sponsored by an uncle who had been living in America at the time. There was a mix-up about Said's arrival date in America and his uncle did not show up until three days later. Said would have been deported if his uncle did not claim him when he did.

Said's father had been a merchant traveling to India by caravan to buy silk and other luxury items to sell in Diyarbakir. He lost all his wealth when a depression hit the city and he couldn't sell his merchandise. Said lost his twin brother, David, by drowning in the Tigris River at the age of seventeen.

In time, Said made a life for himself in America and wanted to marry. He wanted to court Mereyam's daughter Sadie, and wrote to his father in Diyarbakir asking him to intercede on his behalf with Mereyam.This he did since the two families were not only distantly related, but were both part of the Diyarbakir Assyrian elete.

Said and Sadie eventually married and were the parents of two sons and two daughters. They lived in Connecticut, Long Island and New York City, finally making their permanent home in New Jersey. Said made a living as a silk weaver and later as the owner of a dry cleaning factory. Mereyam remained a big part of Sadie's and Said's life until her death in 1914.

A year later, Said learned that his entire family in Diyarbakir had perished at the hands of the Turks during the genocide of World War 1.

Said never forgot his roots. He was a charter member of the Assyrian Orphanage and School Association founded in the year 1900. Sadie, Said, and their two sons have passed away but their two daughters, Mazy and Dorothy, and grand-children remain very proud Assyrians and are still active in the community. Mazy and Dorothy have followed in their Mother's footsteps and are active members of the Assyrian Ladies Society of the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Paramus, NJ. They remain very proud Assyrians!

The author, Mazy Basmajy is the granddaughter of Mereyam Betterbed and resides in Ridgefield, NJ with her sister Dorothy.

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