One of the most ancient cities in Azerbaijan, Sheki (pop. 172,000) is known as a city of fine architecture, sericulture and traditional crafts. Sheki was one of the strongholds of Azerbaijani segment of the ancient Silk Roads. It is a multi-ethnic city with well-preserved architectural monuments that are closely related to the development of traditional crafts, such as shebeke (wooden-framed stained glass) and pottery. For centuries, Sheki has been the main centre of silk production in the Caucasus. Crafts production today represents 14.4% of the city’s incomes, supported by 253 masters-craftsmen specialised in 18 types of craft, out of whom 59 are women.
In the framework of World Bank’s Azerbaijan Cultural Heritage Project, several activities were implemented to sustain Sheki’s crafts sector. A key result was the creation of the Sheki Crafts Association, which has, since 2006, been the main organiser of craft fairs, conferences and trainings. The association has implemented various programmes with the hope of improving working conditions for craftsmen, creating high-quality crafts products, developing entrepreneurial skills among craftsmen and increasing awareness surrounding tradition crafts within the youth community.
In recent years, the Sheki Municipality and its Executive Power organised training sessions with members of craft associations to promote employment opportunities and improve social security for artists and craftsmen. In 2014, the city saw a significant rise in number of people employed in the craft sector (an increase of 22.3% as compared to 2013). From 2012-2014, authorities participated in the elaboration of a state programme on the protection of intellectual property (IP) in relation to heritage and artistic expressions. This resulted in a new legislative framework allowing Sheki craftsmen to benefit from an improved IP policy-framework for their creative works.
As a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art, Sheki envisages:
- initiating a comprehensive marketing programme to enhance local creation, production, distribution and dissemination of crafts and folk art;
- establishing the Institute for Arts and Crafts of Sheki; a hub of vocational education in crafts techniques, as well as entrepreneurial, management and marketing skills in creativity and innovation;
- developing a multi-stakeholder strategy on cultural tourism, aimed at improving access to artistic workshops, especially for people with disabilities;
- organising the biannual Sheki International Crafts and Folk Art Fair, aimed at strengthening partnerships with other Creative Cities;
- running a regional network of cities from Turkic-speaking countries to stimulate the integration of crafts and folk art sectors into local development plans; and
- carrying out a feasibility study on projects that explore new potential cultural tourism routes that link Sheki with other cities of the Network in the fields of crafts and folk art, gastronomy and music.