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Azerbaijan Army Nears Breakaway Region’s Capital in Armenia Fight

Azerbaijani troops drew closer to Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, after Armenians admitted the loss of a city they’d said was vital to control of the disputed territory.

“The enemy is on the outskirts of Stepanakert and the existence of the capital is already under threat,” Vahram Poghosyan, press spokesman for the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, wrote on Facebook Monday. The region’s second-largest city, Shushi, is “completely outside our control,” he said.

The statement came a day after Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev declared that his troops had taken Shushi, which is called Shusha in Azerbaijan. The development marks a potential turning point in the 44-day war between the sides as the city occupies a vital strategic location in Nagorno-Karabakh overlooking Stepanakert less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.

“Who controls Shushi controls Artsakh,” Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, Arayik Harutyunyan, said Oct. 30, using the Armenian name for the region. Armenian officials said earlier Monday that fighting continued “in the vicinity of Shushi,” without acknowledging that the city had been lost. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry published video footage Monday showing what it said was its forces in the city.

“We have won this victory on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table,” Aliyev said in a televised speech on Sunday. “I have said many times that, despite all the statements, there are military solutions to this conflict.”

Prior to the fighting that erupted Sept. 27, Armenian forces controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan as a buffer zone since a Russia-brokered truce in 1994 halted a war that had killed 30,000 and displaced 1 million amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. International mediators led by France, Russia and the U.S. have tried without success for nearly three decades to negotiate a peace deal.

Azerbaijan says it’s fighting to restore control over its internationally recognized territory. Armenia says it’s defending Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination after its Armenian majority voted for independence.

Three attempts by Russia, France and the U.S. since Oct. 10 to restore a cease-fire failed to take hold. In contrast to previous outbreaks of fighting, Russia has struggled to rein in the warring sides in its former Soviet backyard, partly because of active support given to Aliyev’s military campaign from his Turkish ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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