Meet Anoush Aram Sarkis Belian. On Aug. 22, Anoush became the first Palestinian female bodybuilder to participate and win an Israeli competition, outshining four other finalists to win the Tel Aviv competition.
Belian is from the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Her late father Aram Belian was Armenian and her mother Renee is Arab Christian.
“I was born, raised, and still live in the Armenian Quarter,” Belian told the Armenian Weekly. The 28-year-old athlete grew up playing soccer with the Armenian club HEM. “We had a small girls’ team and we would play at the Armenian convent,” she explained.
On Aug. 22, Belian was crowned “Miss Fitness” in the competition organized by the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA), becoming the first Armenian Palestinian to ever compete and win a bodybuilding competition in Jerusalem.
“[This] makes me feel very proud. By being the first, it is like I am writing history,” she told the Weekly. “It’s difficult to describe how amazing it feels to work hard and reach my goal—not only to compete, but also to win.”
It has been all but easy for Belian, though, as the sport struggles to gain a foothold in the region, especially for women. “There are no women here that lift weights and have reached this point in bodybuilding,” Belian said. “There are lots of girls competing around the world each year; [there are] many Jews and Russian Jews in the sport. But I am the first woman in Jerusalem that lifts weights and competes. You won’t see girls here that train or even go to the gym in the Armenian Quarter,” she said.
The idea of female bodybuilding is still quite taboo for Palestinians. “The community and most Palestinians in general don’t support the idea of a girl lifting weights, having muscles, and competing,” said Belian.
That doesn’t seem to slow her down, though. Belian hopes to continue competing and inspiring all along the way. “I hope to keep competing in world championships and to continue in the bodybuilding industry. I would really like to train women in order to inspire and motivate them to join the sport,” she said.
Belian also hopes that her new accolades will inspire the Armenian community of Jerusalem to get more involved in sports. “I hope all this encourages the youth to be more active in sports. Perhaps this may be a reason for a new gym for the community. Who knows?”