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Popular Uprisings and Mass Killings: How Are They Related?

On Thursday, September 27th, the Reiff Center at CNU hosted Dr. Evan Perkoski, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Connecticut. He spoke to a crowd of CNU students, professors, and members of the Newport News community regarding mass killings during popular uprisings.IMG_7590

Dr. Perkoski began by discussing the motivations behind his research, which included analyzing current uprisings in Syria and Tunisia. Both protests started as nonviolent movements, but the Syrian uprising quickly turned violent at the hands of the Assad regime with roughly 100,000 civilians fatalities. Meanwhile, the uprising in Tunisia did not involve the government using violence, therefore there were minimal civilian fatalities as a result of the protests. After examining these cases, he came away with two questions: why do governments crack down on some uprisings but not others and how can nonviolent protesters remain safe?

Dr. Perkoski discusses his research on mass killings during popular uprisings with a crowd in McMurran.

Typically, there is an assumption that mass killings occur because the regime in power sees an opportunity and threat with the current uprising. If the regime is authoritarian and possesses a strong military, there is an assumption that they will use their superior military power to suppress the uprisings of their own people, even if it means resorting to violence. Dr. Perkoski acknowledged these assumptions, but did not want the audience to assume that all regimes possessed this rationality and were strategic in their reasoning for executing mass killings. Instead, he focused on political, economic, and social factors that he believes contribute to the likelihood of regimes committing mass killings such as recent mass killings, coup attempts in the past five years, military regime, subgroup discrimination, and population size – all of which increase the probability of mass killings.

After examining these factors, Dr. Perkoski reminded the audience that research finds that nonviolent resistance are more likely to succeed, more likely to produce democratic governments, less likely to result in government repression, and less likely to drag on for extended periods of time. In fact, 68.15% of violent campaigns experience mass killings compared to 23.12% in nonviolent.

Ultimately, after examining uprisings from 1945 until 2013, Dr. Perkoski found four implications for policymakers and activists in minimizing the possibility of violence during popular uprisings: maintaining nonviolent discipline is key, encourage military defections, foreign states should avoid visible material support, and the structural roots of violence within the society need to be addressed.