BAKU/YEREVAN -- Officials from the de facto government in the breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh have confirmed that Azerbaijani forces have taken control of the strategic town of Shushi amid heavy fighting and reports forces are approaching the region’s capital, Stepanakert.
"Today, unfortunately, we have to accept that a chain of unlucky events has followed us for days and the city of Shushi is completely out of our control," Vahram Poghosian, a spokesman for the leader of the unrecognized republic's de facto government, said on November 9.
The statement confirms comments by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on November 8 that his country’s forces had taken Shushi, the second-largest settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. That announcement had sent many people into the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, to celebrate.
However, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, in a message on Facebook, later said that "the fighting for Shushi continues," without elaborating.
Surrounded by sheer cliffs, Shushi (known as Susa in Azeri) is seen as a strategic point for Azerbaijani forces to launch attacks on Stepanakert.
Earlier, Aliyev told the BBC that Yerevan's "opportunities to compromise are shrinking" and said he saw no possibility of peace talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been governing their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan's troops were pushed out of the region in a war that ended in a cease-fire in 1994.
Shushi's population was mainly Azerbaijani before the 1991-94 war, but the town is culturally significant to both sides.
Several thousand people are feared killed in the latest flare-up of the conflict over territory. Three cease-fires have failed in the past six weeks and Azerbaijan's superior weaponry and battlefield gains have reduced its incentive to seek a lasting peace deal.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto Defense Ministry said it had recorded another 44 casualties among its forces, pushing its military death toll to 1,221 since fighting with the Azerbaijani military erupted on September 27.
Azerbaijan has not released any military casualty figures.
Efforts to resolve the conflict by the OSCE Minsk Group -- co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States -- have not brought any results since 1992.
Diplomats appeared to ramp up efforts over the weekend, with Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking separately on November 7 to his Turkish and French counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Emmanuel Macron, respectively.
CNN Turk quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Erdogan proposed that Putin create a new working group to try settle the conflict.
On November 9, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the report.
The fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh has raised fears of a wider conflict in the South Caucasus drawing in NATO member Turkey, which is an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military pact with Armenia.