© 2022 Global South Ltd.The relationship between states and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is the subject of differing interpretations. Many observers of transnational civil society have pointed out a closing of civic space, including humanitarian space. Accordingly, many have focused on conflict and cooperation as main modes of interaction between states and NGOs. In this article we argue that a more in-depth look at state–NGO relations in Turkey shows that this binary framework is not sufficient. Relying on a framework that delineates conflict, cooperation, competition and co-optation as the four main patterns of interaction between states and NGOs, we look at the case of humanitarian NGOs based in Turkey. While aspects of state–NGO relations in Turkey indicate a co-opted humanitarian space, based on interviews with humanitarian NGOs in Turkey and secondary sources, we show that relations between the state and civil society actors are much more complex and evade simple categorisation. This underscores that ideological proximity does not always bring about smooth cooperation, and co-optation does not prevent NGOs from acting contrary to the wishes of the government. Humanitarian NGOs are also able to exert autonomous influence on governments.