Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said the country’s forces have captured Shusha, the second-largest city in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Armenian officials denied the city, which they call Shushi, had been taken by Azeri forces.
“Dear Shusha, you are free!” Aliyev tweeted Sunday. “Karabakh is ours! Karabakh is Azerbaijan!”
Azeris celebrated the announcement in the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital.
Fighting has been raging for more than a month between Azerbaijan and Armenia over control of the mountainous region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.
At least 1,000 people have been killed in the recent fighting and Turkey has lent Azerbaijan decisive military support, despite some international condemnation, notably from France.
Shusha, which Armenians call Shushi, is of strategic importance because it is 15 kilometers away from the enclave’s largest city Stepanakert, and it also has particular cultural significance.
Officials from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and Armenia’s defense ministry denied Aliyev’s statement.
“Shushi remains an unattainable pipe dream for Azerbaijan. Despite heavy destruction, the fortress city withstands the blows of the enemy,” the Nagorno-Karabakh Rescue Service said.
On Saturday French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh in a phone call.
“They agreed on the necessity to end the fighting, in order to allow a return to negotiations on a realistic basis, the principal objective being maintaining Armenian populations on this land, and ending the suffering of civilian populations,” the French presidency’s readout of the call said.
The Kremlin’s readout said the two leaders “expressed serious concern regarding the ongoing large-scale hostilities in the conflict area and a more active involvement of extremists from Syria and Libya.”
France, Russia and the U.S. are the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group set up in 1992 to mediate the decades-old conflict over the territory.