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8 Nov, 2020 09:27

Azerbaijan says it has seized key Nagorno-Karabakh town of Shusha, but Armenia denies Baku's claim & insists fighting continues

Azerbaijan says it has seized key Nagorno-Karabakh town of Shusha, but Armenia denies Baku's claim & insists fighting continues

Azerbaijani forces have captured the strategic town of Shusha in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the country's president, Ilham Aliyev, announced, on Sunday. Armenia immediately denied the claim, saying fighting was ongoing.

“Today, the Azerbaijani flag is being flown in Shusha. It is possibly the happiest day of my life,” Aliyev said, as quoted by local media. “Shusha is ours! Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” he added.

The president's comments were followed by a statement by the country’s defense ministry, which said that the town “has been liberated from Armenian occupation after more than 28 years.”

Baku's claims about the seizure of the town were quickly disputed by Yerevan. “The battles in Shushi continue, [we] wait and believe in our troops,” Armenian defense ministry spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisyan wrote on social media, calling the town by its Armenian name.

Armenian military press secretary Shushan Stepanyan had earlier reported “the most ferocious combat” around Shusha as Azerbaijani troops were trying to advance on the town.

The Azerbaijani statements on Shusha were met with praise by Baku’s longtime ally Turkey. “The establishment of sovereignty [in the town] is a very serious development for Azerbaijan,” the county's Vice President Fuat Oktay said. Oktay later wrote on social media that “Shusha has survived Armenian occupation,” and congratulated Baku on its “victory.”

Shusha, the second largest town in the region, is located just 10km (six miles) south of Nagorno-Karabakh’s largest city and de-facto capital, Stepanakert. Taking Shusha would leave the latter exposed to Azerbaijani offensives.

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The heavy fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians, broke out on September 27 and has led to multiple military and civilian casualties on both sides. Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of starting new rounds of hostilities, and have repeatedly blamed the other side for striking civilian targets.

The region has remained closely allied with Armenia after it broke away from Azerbaijan during a bloody war in the early 1990s. Baku considers the lands to be “occupied” and has been calling for an end to Armenia's “occupation.” While Yerevan has backed the region for years, it has stopped short of formally recognizing its independence.

Both sides are refusing to lay down arms, each accusing the other of unwillingness to seek a compromise or to make concessions. All international efforts to broker a ceasefire so far have failed.

Also on rt.com Russia & Germany call for immediate ceasefire amid fears Nagorno-Karabakh war could become Yugoslavia-like humanitarian crisis

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