Vahag Babayan, the Bethesda jeweler acquitted last week of murder and reckless endangerment, said yesterday he will live every day knowing he killed two people in a "regrettable" incident. "It will be a scar for a lifetime . . . something I cannot erase."

Babayan also said he can't erase the humiliation and degradation he felt on June 16 when an armed robber ordered him to scoop handfuls of jewelry into a plastic bag.

"He told me to put the jewelry, some gold bracelets, into the bag," Babayan said. "I told him, 'You do it.' He forced me to open the showcase. It was humiliating . . . doing things against your will.

"I would compare it with rape. I think it was psychological rape."

Four days after a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury cleared him of all charges stemming from the incident, Babayan, 28, struggles to understand his feelings about the shootings and the trial. "I'm still in general numbness," he said.

A stoic man, Babayan said the support of his family, friends and the Armenian community of about 10,000 people in the Washington area helped him endure the past six months of intense public scrutiny.

"They were living in a nightmare as I was," Babayan said in the Rockville office of his lawyers. Babayan, dressed in blue jeans, a rumpled striped shirt and a gray tie, was flanked by his lawyers, Edward Genn and his son, Maryland Del. Gilbert Genn (D-Montgomery).

Babayan's career as a professional musician and aspiring businessman was dramatically altered by a 10- to 15-minute encounter with a robber.

"Our business had its ups and downs," Babayan said of the Prestige Jewelers store he opened in September 1989 with his younger brother, David. Babayan said they started the business because "we wanted to be independent. And because I couldn't stay working as a {grocery store} cashier forever."

The Wisconsin Avenue store, closed since the robbery, was gaining a regular clientele, Babayan said. "It had good potential. We had established ourselves in the 1989 Christmas season. We had big hopes for this Christmas."

That was before Babayan was robbed at gunpoint. "It was all instinct," said Babayan, referring to his decision to grab a pistol and chase the robber, Donald Shelton, to a parked car. According to Babayan and his attorneys, the chase was not to retrieve property, but to make a citizen's arrest of a robber who "had violated Babayan's person and identity."

Babayan testified he shot and killed Shelton and a passenger, Steven J. Powell, a man Babayan said had been in the store minutes before the shootings, in self-defense. In nearly three hours of testimony and cross-examination at his trial, Babayan said he "felt comfortable because I was telling the truth and nothing else. I was nervous though about reliving the details."

Yesterday, Babayan said his days as a shop owner are over. "Not in the retail business any more," he said. "I would do wholesale only."

Babayan said he intends to continue a musical career that already has produced a solo album of Armenian songs. A member of a professional band, he is working on a second album.

The older of two sons, Babayan grew up in an apartment in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. After finishing high school, Babayan said he studied the manufacture of machine tools at a trade school.

Meanwhile, Babayan's father, like his grandfather, was active in the Armenian dissident movement. When Babayan was 18, the family was asked by the government to leave their homeland, subsquently finding refuge in 1981 in the sizable Armenian community in Los Angeles, Babayan said.

While there, Babayan said he attended college, studying film and television production and honing his musical skills as a guitarist, drummer and composer.

In 1987, the family moved to Washington, where Babayan worked as a grocery store cashier before opening the jewelry store with a $30,000 loan from his parents. Babayan's father, Vigen, is a language editor with the Voice of America.

Babayan, who lives with his parents in Arlington, said he doesn't know whether he would react the same way if he were robbed again. "It's hard to say what I would do. I reacted instinctively. At a different time, it might be a different reaction."