The Azerbaijani city of Shusha has been liberated from the occupation of Armenian forces, the country's leader announced on Sunday.
"After 28 years, the adhan [call to prayer] will be heard in Shusha," Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev -- wearing a military uniform -- said in his address to the nation.
Shusha -- which was occupied by Armenian forces on May 8, 1992 -- has critical importance in liberating Nagorno-Karabakh, or Upper Karabakh region, which is an internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. It is located on the road to Khankendi, the region's largest city.
Noting that Nov. 8 will remain as an important day in Azerbaijan's history, Aliyev said "Shusha is not only the pearl of Azerbaijan but of the whole Caucasus."
"This history will live forever. This is the date of our glorious victory. And we won this victory on the battlefield, not at the negotiation table," he said in his speech at the Alley of Martyrs in the capital Baku.
Emphasizing that Azerbaijan has strengthened both its economy and its army during these years, Aliyev said: "We proved to the world Upper Karabakh is historical Azerbaijani land."
Aliyev, congratulating the Azerbaijani nation, said it is "one of the happiest days" in his life and that "our victory march continues."
"If the Armenian leadership does not respond to our demands [withdrawal of occupying forces from the region], we will go till the end," he said.
Before the address, Aliyev and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva commemorated Azerbaijani heroes who sacrificed their lives for Azerbaijan's independence and territorial integrity, and laid floral wreath at the memorial.
The first couple also visited the Alley of Honors, and laid a wreath at the tomb of late President Heydar Aliyev and others.
"The blood of Khojaly victims did not go in vain, our martyrs were avenged. We took our revenge on the battlefield," the head of state said.
Khojaly has deep significance in the decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the heels of the Soviet Union's dissolution, Armenian forces took the town of Khojaly on Feb. 26, 1992, after pounding it with tank and heavy artillery fire, assisted by an infantry regiment.
A total of 613 vulnerable people, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly, were killed in Khojaly, previously inhabited by 7,000 people.
Some 487 people, including 76 children, were critically injured, while 150 of 1,275 Azerbaijanis that the Armenians captured during the massacre still remain missing.
Besides its strategic importance, Shusha is known as one of the symbols of Azerbaijani history and culture. Many prominent Azerbaijani musicians and scholars were born here.
The Azerbaijani president later tweeted that "economic independence, strong modern army, national unity and success on international level preconditioned our victory."
"We are liberating our lands from occupiers through the sacrifices by our people, soldiers and officers. Today, I bow once again before the souls of our martyrs," he said.
Aliyev expressed happiness over fulfilling his late-father's will, and said "I am fortunate to have fulfilled a father’s will. We liberated Shusha! This is a great victory! Today may the soul of National Leader and our martyrs be praised! I felicitate you, Azerbaijan!"
Relations between the two former Soviet republics over Karabakh remain tense since 1991 but fresh clashes broke out on Sept. 27.
Thereafter, Armenia has repeatedly attacked Azerbaijani civilians and forces, even violating three humanitarian cease-fire agreements.
At least 92 Azerbaijani civilians have lost their lives, including 11 children and infants, according to the country's Chief Prosecutor's Office. As many as 404 people, including at least 36 children, have also been injured.
Some 3,064 houses and 100 multi-apartment residential buildings have been destroyed, while 504 civilian facilities have been damaged.
Since the operations began on Sept. 27, the Azerbaijani army liberated four city centers, three settlements and over 220 villages, as well as some strategic heights from the occupation of Armenian forces.
About 20% of Azerbaijan's territory – including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions – has been under Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.
While world powers have called for a sustainable cease-fire, Turkey has supported Baku's right to self-defense and demanded the withdrawal of Armenia's occupying forces.
Multiple UN resolutions also call for unconditional withdrawal of the invading forces.