Day 147 – Detained in Yevlax


Despite the cardboard window of my hotel room at the decrepid will-fall-down-at-any-moment hotel, I did get a good sleep, and managed also to dry out my tent after yesterday’s muddy fiasco.

Dodgy 'light switch' in a dodgy hotel in Yevlax, Azerbaijan / このホテルは危ない!これが電気のスイッチ(アゼルバイジャン、イェブラック町)

I had just gotten money out of the ATM and was about to leave on my bike when a suit stolled up and began asking all the usual questions about where I was going and….I’m sorry? Do I have a camera? Um, yes, I’m a tourist…

Turns out that this guy is a detective from the Oil Police, a governmental security agency protecting government interests in the oil industry here in Azerbaijan. These guys are very serious about their role.

A Lada Niva 4X4 pulls up and four guys in black jackets step out. One of them walks briskly over to where the Suit and I am, salutes the Suit, and proceeds to tell me in English that I was observed taking photographs of a BP facility yesterday, and that the photo must be deleted.

As I flicked through the photos, I inadvertently show the ones I took of the BP Sangachal Terminal near Baku.

BP Sangachal Oil and Gas Terminal, Sangachal, Azerbaijan / BP石油サンガチャル・ターミナル(アゼルバイジャン、サンガチャル町)

“You will need to delete that photo, Sir.”

I go into defensive mode, and counter that there must be hundreds of tourists that go past the terminal in a bus, click off a photo, and the secret police never know about it. Why come down on me?

“This is a security issue, Sir. You have no right to take photos of such facilities. You do understand, we need to be vigilant. It is a terrorism issue.”

I explain that they need to lighten up and make case by case decisions in matters like this. I mean, do I look like a terrorist? Do terrorists go cycling around for 5 months and 5,000km, on a bicycle that attracts attention, and take photos where everyone can see?

“We’re going to need to see the rest of the photos, Sir.”

104km point on the BTC Gas Pipeline, Azerbaijan / BTCパイプラインの104km時点(アゼルバイジャン)

“That one also must go” he said, indicating the photo above.

“Are you serious? Look at this photo. It could be anywhere! Are you serious?!” The other ones I could kind of understand, but this one?

“Look, Sir, if you do not delete the photos, it will cause problems for us.”

“OK then, lets just get a bigger picture of things here. What if I refuse to delete the photos. Like, what are the implications for me? Will I be arrested? What?” I really was quite attached to these photos.

“Maybe” is all he could come up with.

“Right,” I proposed, “how about you take a record of the photos I have taken, take my details, and in a way register the photos I have taken?”

“My superiors are on their way, I will ask to see if that is possible.”

And there you have it. Photos registered, every page in my passport photocopied, and I was on my way. I got my beloved photos (except the one of the pumping station), and everyone was happy.

This little setback cost me most of the morning, so it was a short day to just past Goranboy Town, where I pitched the tent and had me a campfire.

Campsite near Goranboy, Azerbaijan / ゴランボイ村の近く(アゼルバイジャン)

Not without taking another picture of government property, of course.

Warning sign on the BTC Pipeline just out of Yevlax, Azerbaijan / BTCパイプラインの看板(アゼルバイジャン、イェブラック村付近)


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9 thoughts on “Day 147 – Detained in Yevlax

  • Satoshi

    Hi Rob

    I thought you had gone though and learnt enough of what the authorities can do to you and you still take pics and talk back when they ask you questions and stuff. Along the pipelines there are security units standing by with spotters and snipers and you should consider yourself lucky that they didn't blow the contents out of your skull from afar with a large calibre rifle. Did you really think you were pedalling though the virtual no-man's land next alongside the pipeline as long as you didn't see any obvious structures where the security staff were positioned? A little sabotage to the pipeline can cost them millions of dollars and just eliminating a foreign tourist who looks like a terrorist is obviously an option that is a lot cheaper. Ok I am being a bit harsh but you should be more careful, really. Satoshi

  • Mum

    I see you are going to have to read up on Stalin. You should take note of Satoshi's advice too. Oil pipleines are often targets of terrorism and as oil is a source of wealth for Azerbaijan you can understand their attitude to any possibility of breaches in security

  • Lesley Bond

    I told you earlier that you look too much like a Muslim terrorist with your present shaggy beard. Have you considered shaving it off? It may make you less conspicuous with the police.

  • carl w.

    Just thought I'd join in, no self respecting bad boy terroist is going to be seen on a bed sted push bike as currently used by mr. Thomson. Any security guard who sees him and afore mentioned bike would probably think the grade of wood alcohol they've been getting wound into was slightly higher than first thought and should have been used to fill up the Lada Riva Super Sport GTi turbo with super wide wheels and tinted windows.

    However I would say that loosing the beard might be a good idea once you get nearer Austria and certainly nearer good olde blighty as our trigger happy security services have one been issued with new machine guns and rubber gloves.

  • Rob Thomson Post author

    BULK REPLY:

    Satoshi, the monotony of cycling alone makes one willing to take risks…nothing quite like riling up some authorities for some excitement. And besides, I think I have figured out that as much as they might like to think that their policies are water tight, authorities are still human.

    Mum, Azerbaijan needs to chill out. In Georgia, you can take photos of anything. I was even allowed to take a photo of a <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/14degrees/344296386/">massive gas pumping station on the BTC Pipeline.

    Aunty Les, I think the beard is the least of my conspicuousity issues when I am riding a bike like I am.

    Carl, I got fed some of that wood alcohol, in the form of home made vodka, on New Years. The next day a neighbour came around with a grazed hand, and they promptly got the same brew out and proceeded to use it to disinfect the graze. Maybe that's what the Russians used in their early space rocket tests for fuel…