Wandering #2: TheBeach, the Sunken Ship and the Long Arm of the Law

Sumqayit Travel Blog

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The plan was to meet in Sumqayit, walk along the beach to Tagiyev (where Chris lives), along the way we were going to take pictures of all the cool post-soviet factories that are breaking down and then have some dinner at Chris’ house.  Sometimes things don’t work out the way one might want. 

Meeting in Sumqayit was easy.  It happened at around 10:20 near the dove statue at the end of Sulh Street.  Chris, Amanda, Brandy and I joined up, bought some lunch (because we were going to be adventuring in places where people did not exist), and headed northbound up the beach.

First thing on the beach that we found was the old Russian ship that sunk just off the coast of Sumqayit.  Even when considering that we had to walk on some fairly narrow pipes to get to the ship, it was easy to reach.

  Once we crossed the pipes we went up a small, barnacle covered ladder and put ourselves onto the deck of the ship.

The ship itself was made up of holes, rust and plenty of twisted metal all half submerged into the water.  It created a natural deck for the fishermen to cast their lines off of.  We met two or three fishermen up there who were overjoyed to have us take our pictures with them.  I also met a group of girls who spoke English and were wondering who I was and what I was doing on the deck of a wrecked ship.  Actually, they were only slightly interested in things about me and were more interested in how much I charged for English lessons.  As I always do when confronted with a group of women, I took a goofy picture with them then moved on.

We continued north towards Tagiyev but soon the beach turned into marsh and we weren’t able to continue.

Random Azeri females and I
  After much deliberation we double backed, went up to the main road and continued walking.

Soon we came upon what looked like a city sign (though the name of which I don’t remember).  I am thinking that it might have been a small city between Sumqayit and Tagiyev, but it seemed more like an industrial complex.  There were rundown factories, huge industrial complexes and pipes coming out of every direction.  It was an iron jungle, a functioning industrial wasteland and it was exactly what we were looking for.

Along the way I took a few pictures.  One of the “city” sign, one of a curious grouping of pipes that looked Japanese and one of a factory that had actually fallen in on itself.  Then we saw the three broad, upside down cone shaped towers.  They were beautiful in how ominous and eerie they looked.  They fit the general motif of the area as well in that there were pipes seemingly in every direction coming from them.

Fishermen on the deck of the submerged vessel

I pressed the button, heard the snap of my camera, and then noticed the policeman running towards us yelling.

Of course, the first order of business, according to Chris, was to immediately walk the other direction and pretend like nothing was happening.  The policeman pursued.  Then we turned around and pretended to not understand for a few moments.  When that didn’t work we happily put our cameras away and vowed (truthfully) to not take any more pictures of these buildings. 

It didn’t work.   More policemen showed up.

They kindly informed us that we were taking a picture of a place that, according to my understanding, made electricity from radioactive materials.  In other words, I was taking a picture of a nuclear reactor.  This is very much against the law in this country.

A street somewhere between Sumqayit and Tagiyev

Now, in my defense, I did ask the Peace Corps multiple times what I could and could not take pictures of.  The response was always the same: Anything from the military, from the police or any government buildings.  As it was pointed out to me later, EVERY factory is owned by the government. 

Who knew?

The policemen were very kind to us, I have to admit.  There were some good cop bad cop routines going on, usually the lower policeman being friendly with us while the higher ranking policeman would act more suspicious.  Nonetheless, they didn’t stop being overall very kind.  Realize too that they knew we were part of a governmental organization.

They even had a laugh when they compared my pictures to Chris’ pictures and said that mine looked better.

  I was still a little freaked out that they were going to take my camera, but very happy that they thought my picture was nice.

Soon, we were in the back of a police car travelling down to the station.  They told us that they were just going to take down our names and then let us go.  We got to the station and met the “sheriff” of Sumqayit.  He was a nice man until the questioning started.

During the next about four hours we were questioned by one person, questioned again by another person and then re-questioned by the sheriff.  During all of this he was taking pictures of everybody’s identification, measuring passports and writing his report.  He would question repeatedly our motivation for walking from Sumqayit (where there isn’t much for Americans to do), to the beach (which has nothing on it) to Taqiyev (which is even less hospitable for your typical American than Sumqayit).

  He could not understand that we found the area interesting and that we liked taking pictures of broken down factories and nuclear reactors.

If you think about it, he was right, it only makes sense to us that we were walking from Sumqayit to Tagiyev.  Very few people, including Americans, would find this interesting.  Please note that not very many people tend to join us when we go out like this.

In the end, Ceyhoon and Khayal came and rescued us.  They had to drive 2 hours from Baku to Tagiyev and they both missed dinner with their families.  Hats off to them, they deserve a raise.

After all of this, it was late and Ceyhoon and Khayal asked that we get home before dark.  We never did get to go to Chris’ house and have dinner with him.

The best part of the story is this: some days later, the story came up on the news that 4 Americans were arrested for taking illegal pictures in Sumqayit.  They mentioned our names as well.  It was even in the newspaper!  Immediately we have moved from relatively obscure foreigners to national celebrities.

The police deleted my pictures.  I was unhappy about that, but I didn’t try to fight itIt really is important that we follow the laws here and it would have been pointless to protest.

Now that I am a national celebrity, I would like to thank Chris, Amanda and Brandy for assisting me in getting arrested, I would like to thank Sumqayit’s finest for keeping lawless picture takers off the streets (also for being very kind to the silly Americans) and the media here in Azerbaijan for recognizing obvious talent.


What an interesting day it was.



Found this last night:

US citizens photographed government facility in Azerbaijan arrested

[ 21 Nov 2008 18:35 ]

The sunken Russian ship on the Caspian right outside of Sumqayit
Hafiz Heydarov-APA. US citizens photographed the government facility were arrested in Azerbaijan.

Law-enforcement bodies told APA Corey Stevens, 27, Brandon Rene Houser, 26, Amanda Kay Bruno, 23 and Chris Paul, 28 were detained while taking pictures of Synthesis-Rubber Factory of state-run Azerkimya Company in Sumgayit.
The US citizens were sent to the Ministry of National Security after the preliminary testimony.

Sumgayit City Police Office confirmed the fact and told APA that the US citizens were detained for photographing the Synthesis-Rubber Factory several days ago and sent to the Ministry of National Security.


This is a link to the article:



Anyways, that picture isn't of us.  Also, they got some of the names wrong.  Even more, I'm pretty sure the guy told me that it was a nuclear reactor, but of course, I could be wrong (I don't speak the language perfectly).

Really though, it could have been a lot worse.  It was an accident and the police officers were very nice.  I am glad for that.

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Random Azeri females and I
Random Azeri females and I
Fishermen on the deck of the subme…
Fishermen on the deck of the subm…
A street somewhere between Sumqayi…
A street somewhere between Sumqay…
The sunken Russian ship on the Cas…
The sunken Russian ship on the Ca…
Not my favorite picture
Not my favorite picture
Random Azeri female...
Random Azeri female...
photo by: cbstevens