Mikael Hambardzumian was appointed as acting head of the NSS on October 8 eleven days after Azerbaijan launched offensive military operations in and around Karabakh. Pashinian replaced him by another senior NSS officer, Armen Abazian, one month later.
In an interview with the Fifth Channel TV station aired late on Monday, Hambardzumian claimed that he himself decided to leave Armenia’s most powerful security service because of Pashinian’s handling of the war. He singled out the prime minister’s failure to accept a more favorable ceasefire agreement which was negotiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 20.
In November 17 televised remarks, Putin said that the Armenian side would have suffered fewer territorial losses and, in particular, retained control of the strategic Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) had Pashinian agreed to that deal accepted by Azerbaijan. He said he was taken aback by Pashinian’s stance.
Pashinian explained afterwards that he rejected the proposed truce because it called for the return of Azerbaijani refugees to Shushi. He claimed that that too would have restored Azerbaijani control of the town overlooking the Karabakh capital Stepanakert.
“I was informed about [Putin’s] proposals not by the prime minister but by my colleagues,” said Hambardzumian. “I obviously wondered why we are not taking that step and what keeps us from doing that. After all, it was the only real opportunity to stop the war and suffer fewer human and territorial losses.”
According to Hambardzumian, during an October 19 meeting of Armenia’s Security Council the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, General Onik Gasparian, warned Pashinian that the Armenian side is heading for defeat and that the war must be stopped as soon as possible. He said then Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan echoed that warning.
“Nevertheless, such a decision was not made [by Pashinian] after that,” added the former NSS chief.
During the six-week war Azerbaijan recaptured four of the seven districts around Karabakh which had been occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s. Baku agreed to stop its military operations on November 10 in return for an Armenian pledge to withdraw from the three other districts.
The Armenian opposition has blamed Pashinian for the defeat and demanded his resignation. Opposition leaders have portrayed Putin’s revelation as further proof of the prime minister’s mishandling of the war that killed at least 3,300 Armenian soldiers.
Hambardzumian added his voice to the opposition demands shortly after his sacking. He was also among two dozen retired NSS officers who issued in December a joint statement calling for Pashinian’s resignation. The prime minister has repeatedly refused to quit.