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Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State

Ugur Ümit Üngör

Publication Date - 06 October 2022

ISBN: 9780192865298

224 pages
8.5 x 5.3 inches

In Stock


From the deserts of Sudan to the jungles of Colombia, and from the streets of Belfast to the mountains of Kurdistan, paramilitaries have appeared in violent conflicts in very different settings. Paramilitaries are generally depicted as irregular armed organizations that carry out acts of violence against civilians on behalf of a state. In doing so, they undermine the state's monopoly of legitimate violence, while at the same time creating a breeding ground for criminal activities. Why do governments with functioning police forces and armies use paramilitary groups? This study tackles this question through the prism of the interpenetration of paramilitaries and the state.

The author interprets paramilitarism as the ability of the state to successfully outsource mass political violence against civilians that transforms and traumatizes societies. It analyses how paramilitarism can be understood in global context, and how paramilitarism is connected to transformations of warfare and state-society relations. By comparing a broad range of cases, it looks at how paramilitarism has made a profound impact in a large number of countries that were different, but nevertheless shared a history of pro-government militia activity. A thorough understanding of paramilitarism can clarify the direction and intensity of violence in wartime and peacetime. The volume examines the issues of international involvement, institutional support, organized crime, party politics, and personal ties.


  • First comparative and conceptual synthesis of paramilitarism
  • Focuses on the centrality and breadth of states' paramilitary strategies
  • Examines the involvement of organized crime in paramilitarism

About the Author(s)

Ugur Ümit Üngör, Associate Professor of History, Utrecht University

Ugur Ümit Üngör is Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies. His main area of interest is the historical sociology of mass violence in the Middle East. He is an editor of the Journal of Perpetrator Research, and coordinator of the Syrian Oral History Project. He is the author of the award-winning The Making of Modern Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2011) and is currently writing a monograph on mass violence in Syria.


"Historically based and yet inspiringly contemporary in its analysis and relevance, it shows that 'paramilitarism', as Üngör states in his concluding sentence, 'is here to stay' (p. 194), not least in its legacies of civic and state fragmentation." -- Gregor Kranjc, Brock University, St Catharines, ON, Canada, The English Historical Review

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: Old Wine in New Bottles?
    2. Paramilitarism's Long Twentieth Century
    3. Organized Crime, the State, and Paramilitarism
    4. The Organization of Paramilitarism
    5. Conclusion: the complexity of paramilitarism
    Select Bibliography