By Jason Keyser, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) - Armen Sinanian, an Armenian monk, remembers peaking out from a small window in Bethlehem's besieged Church of the Nativity, looking for soldiers and tanks. Then, he heard the snap of a single rifle shot and felt the burning sting of a bullet through his back.
An Israeli soldier shot the 22-year-old monk last week, mistaking him for one of the 200 or so armed Palestinians who have taken refuge inside the ancient church compound, built over the grotto revered by Christians as the spot where Jesus was born.
"It's now not a holy place," Sinanian said Tuesday from his hospital bed.
During the standoff, entering a third week, another Christian - a quiet Palestinian man who rang the church bells - was shot and killed. It's not clear who fired that shot. Christians in the Holy Land say they again feel pinned down by region's violence. Several dozen church leaders are inside the basilica, saying it is their duty to stay to protect one of Christianity's holiest shrines.
As a small boy, Armen Sinanian trailed his grandfather to churches filled with incense, ancient song and prayer. "These years were just beautiful for me," he said.
In Goris, a city in southeastern Armenia, Sinanian said he dreamed as a young boy of coming to the Holy Land. Six years ago, he did, studying in a Jerusalem seminary then going to Bethlehem, where he prayed and sang hymns, some of them older than the 4th-century church.
The only other time Sinanian ran into trouble inside the stone walls was in brisk but comical arguments with Greeks and Latins, which he said went something like: "It's my place. Pray here, pray there."
Then came Israel's invasion of Bethlehem and other West Bank towns in response to a series of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks. Armed Palestinians, including policemen and militiamen, dashed for the church on April 2 under a heavy spray of Israeli gunfire.
Sinanian and other Armenians bolted an iron door to close off their section of the church, which is shared with the Greek Orthodox and Latins. Several times, gunmen climbed over a wall asking Sinanian for food. During a lull on April 10, Sinanian said soldiers telephoned the Armenians to say they were bringing food and medicine for them. Sinanian looked out his second-story window to see if there were indeed soldiers below, while others went to receive the food.
Most of his view blocked by a large tree, the monk saw nothing. As he turned away, a bullet punched through his back, just below his left shoulder and came out on his
right side. None of his organs were seriously damaged, but a bone in his shoulder was split. He staggered into the hallway and fell to the stone floor.
The Israeli military said a soldier mistakenly shot the monk believing he was a gunman. Soldiers took Sinanian to the edge of the city, where an ambulance rushed him to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital.
Standing beside his hospital bed, another monk, Hrachia Hayrapetian, said the violence ravaging the Holy Land would not shake their faith. "How can a person go away from God?" he asked. "Even if they try to kill you, you can't go away from God."
Sinanian, breathing through an oxygen mask, added, "And I'm sure it's from God that I'm living right now."