Azerbaijan International

Autumn 1998 (6.3)
Page 51

The Legend of Sumgayit
City Takes Its Name from a Legend of Love

by Fuad Akhundov

A city doesn't have to be ancient to be associated with a legend. In Azerbaijan, even comparatively new towns and settlements are named after old stories and legends. Sumgayit, located about 30 miles away from Baku on the northern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, is the third largest city in Azerbaijan (after Baku and Ganja). It was built 50 years ago and has an estimated population of 300,000. The city's name refers to the legend of two lovers who lived by a nearby river.

Statue of a seagull in Sumgayit. Photo: Blair

SumgayitThe story's setting takes place on the banks of the river near which a tribal group had settled. Central to so many stories throughout the world is a love story and so it is with this legend. A young man named Sum and a young woman named Jeyran fell deeply in love with each other. Their tribe was doing quite well, getting most of their food by fishing in the river. However, one morning the people were horrified to see that the river had completely dried up. Since the river had its source high up in the mountains, the tribesmen decided to send the strongest and most courageous man to go up and see what had happened. And so it was that Sum was chosen for this dangerous mission.

Sum climbed and climbed until he reached the top of the highest mountain. Then he discovered what the problem was. A terrible monster had dammed up the river with a huge boulder. A fierce battle ensued and eventually Sum managed to overcome the beast and strangle it to death. Then he went over to the boulder and pushed it out of the way, but the force of the water swallowed him up and his body was swept downstream. As the water carried him away, only his hand could be seen sticking up above the surface of the water. That's why this mountain where Sum carried out his heroic deed is called "Beshbarmag" Mountain, which means "Five Fingers." Its five tall peaks look like the hero's fingers.

But the river began flowing again and everything returned to normal. The tribe was saved. Everyone was happy again except, of course, for Jeyran. She missed Sum terribly. Every day she would go down to the river and call for her beloved to return. In Azeri, her cry sounded like, "Sum Gayid!" (Sum, Come back). And that's how the river that Sum saved came to be called, "Sumgayit Chay" ("chay," meaning river). And the city that was built there shortly after WWII was named Sumgayit. It became Azerbaijan's largest chemical and industrial center.

But that's not the end of the story. When Jeyran realized that Sum would never come back, she started to cry and eventually she, too, died, drowning in her own tears. The place where this is supposed to have happened is called Jeyran-Batan, which in Azeri means, "The place where Jeyran drowned." Today, there is a reservoir there which supplies the city of Baku with water. This reservoir was created about the same time that the city of Sumgayit was built. So the names of both places can be traced to olden times and are bound up with the same legend.

From Azerbaijan International (6.3) Autumn 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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