At the most crucial moment of the conflict that erupted in September in the mountains and heavily militarized region, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced on Sunday that his forces had taken Shusha, a city sometimes described as “Nagorno-Karabakh Jerusalem” for its religious significance.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense released a video on Monday showing the country’s flag flying over public buildings in the city, placing Azerbaijani forces a few miles from the regional capital, Stephankert. The video shows deserted streets and damaged buildings.
Then on Monday, Azerbaijan apologized for crashing a Russian helicopter near the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, saying it was an accident.
Shusha – or Sushi known to the Armenians – is located 10 kilometers south of Stephenkert and is on high ground, making the capital more vulnerable. It has already experienced regular rocket and missile attacks; Many civilians fled to Armenia over the weekend.
The first Armenian acknowledgment that Susha had fallen came from the spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh presidency on Monday, Vahram Bokosyan.
He posted on Facebook that “the city is not under our control, doing all sorts of inspiring or motivating campaigns”[es] Don’t give us anything but to lose the sense of reality. Pogosyan added, “The enemy is near Stephenkurt, and now the capital’s presence is threatened. “
Shortly afterwards, however, Armenian Prime Minister Nicole Pashinian wrote a line on Facebook: “The wars for sushi continue.” Araik Harutuyanyan, the leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh, said on Facebook, “We will fight the enemy to the end.”
Armenian authorities have not officially confirmed the fall of Shusha. Late on Sunday, Defense Ministry officials said the fighting was continuing.
Pogohosian made a plea to Armenia on his Facebook post: “Sushi should be ours again if you want, and Artzak [the Armenian name of Nagorno-Karabakh] To be saved, we must today pay our respects to Stephencourt and all the ability to organize all directions of the front line. “
Videos released on social media on Sunday showed cars leaving Stephencourt, but reports from the city say many members of the public were still there.
The Russian Defense Ministry says a Russian military helicopter was shot down over Armenia near the Azerbaijani border just hours after Azerbaijan’s defense ministry posted a video of Shusha online.
The helicopter crashed using a missile from a small surface, killing two crew members and taking a third to the airport with injuries in a Mi-24 crash in a mountainous area in Armenia.
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry later issued a statement apologizing for the helicopter crash, saying it was an accident.
“The Azerbaijani side apologizes to the Russian side for this tragedy. It was accidental and not directed against the Russian side,” the statement said. The statement conveyed Azerbaijan’s “genuine condolences” to the families of the Russian group members and offered compensation.
“The helicopter took off near the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border, while intense military clashes continue in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone,” the Azerbaijani report said.
“The plane took off at low altitude in the dark outside the air defense radar detection zone. Russian Air Force helicopters had never been seen in the area before,” it added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a supporter of Azerbaijan’s voice – said at a rally in the Turkish city of Kokeli on Sunday that “the liberation of Shusha and the liberation of the remaining occupied territories are near.”
In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Erdogan read out a call from the Turkish presidency calling for Armenia to withdraw from occupied Azerbaijan.
The unrest in Nagorno-Karabakh preceded the fall of the Soviet Union, which declared independence from Azerbaijan with the support of Armenia.
Shusha was captured by Armenian forces in 1992 and Nagorno-Karabakh established a true independence that was not recognized by most of the people of the world. The 1994 ceasefire ended the violent conflict over the area, but tensions continued.
Azerbaijan has long been claiming the recapture of an internationally recognized territory called Azerbaijan. Tensions erupted again in the summer, escalating in September.
Both sides have reported dozens of civilian casualties since the conflict began in September.
Aren Melikyan Yerevan, Archbishop Kybulla and Gul Tuysus reported from Istanbul, Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow, Tim Lister reported from Spain, and Ivana Gotsova wrote in London.