TVER, Russia — The president of Azerbaijan claimed on Sunday that his forces had captured a strategically important hilltop town in Nagorno-Karabakh, which, if confirmed, would greatly complicate Armenia’s defense of the separatist region.
The town, known as Shusha to Azerbaijanis and Shushi to Armenians, sits at a commanding height overlooking several mountain valleys and Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, and it is considered a linchpin to military control of the region.
The town’s capture would also indicate that Azerbaijan had overrun a main road connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is home to ethnic Armenians.
“We have won this victory on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table,” the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, said on Sunday. “I have said many times that, despite all the statements, there are military solutions to this conflict.”
Officials in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh denied that the town had been captured and said that fierce fighting continued.
Perched high in the mountains and bordered by sheer cliffs, the town is a natural fortress and was also a military prize in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh that began in the late 1980s. Over the following years, Armenia made a series of territorial gains, driving nearly a million Azerbaijanis from their homes. The conflict ended in 1994 with a cease-fire but no settlement.
“Despite the fact that there is a lot of destruction in the city, the fortified city resists the attacks of the enemy,” the separatist government in Nagorno-Karabakh said in a statement released on Sunday.
Still, the fact that fighting has reached the main road connecting Armenia with the ethnic Armenian towns and cities in Nagorno-Karabakh bodes ill for the Armenian side. The important route is called the Lachin Corridor.
The road, paved two decades ago with contributions from the Armenian diaspora in Southern California, is critical to Nagorno-Karabakh’s defense, allowing military supplies to come from Armenia along switchbacks over a mountain pass. A secondary road has also come under attack.
Armenian officials on Sunday also released photographs of fresh destruction in Stepanakert, showing shattered windows, collapsed roofs and the tail fin of a rocket that apparently caused the damage. Since fighting began on Sept. 27, both sides have shelled civilian areas, and at least 1,000 people, including civilians, have been killed.
Fighting has continued despite repeated attempts by Russia, France and the United States to help reach a lasting cease-fire. Much of the concern stems from the conflict’s potential to draw in regional powers like Russia, Turkey and Iran. Turkey has been openly backing Azerbaijan, while Russia has a mutual defense treaty with Armenia, though Moscow says it will take effect only if the violence spreads to recognized Armenian territory. Iran has said stray Azerbaijani ordnance has fallen on its side of a border with Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Sunday, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, congratulated Azerbaijan for capturing the hilltop town.