The project

During the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, paramilitary units appeared in Serbia and Turkey, and committed mass violence against civilians. These groups maintained close links with political elites, including heads of state, and they were largely drawn from the social milieu of organized crime. This research project starts from the hypothesis that paramilitary units are the result of outsourcing mass political violence by the state, and are recruited from the ranks of criminals and gangs, which return to their normal criminal activities after their service for the state is finished. This will be examined from a longer-term, historical perspective on the emergence, functioning, and decline of paramilitary units.

The availability of new, previously undisclosed source materials opens a window of opportunity for the study of these phenomena. Several examples of recent paramilitarism will be studied within a broad comparative framework; the Serbian and Turkish cases in greater detail. The project aims to answer the questions how and why paramilitarism emerges; to what extent and how it contributes to large-scale violence; what happens to these units after their ‘political’ role ends; and how paramilitarism is connected to transformations of warfare and state-society relations.

Case studies

Turkey Serbia Syria

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The team

The paramilitarism research team is made up of people from various backgrounds and nationalities.

The project is led by Dr. Ugur Üngör. He is Associate Professor at the Department of History at Utrecht University and Research Fellow at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam.

The other two researchers are Iva Vukušić and Ayhan Isik.