Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on a two-day visit to Moldova aimed at boosting relations with the former Soviet republic.
Erdogan met on October 17 in Moldova’s capital with his counterpart, Igor Dodon, and the two presidents signed a joint declaration on “strategic” cooperation between Chisinau and Ankara.
The two presidents also inaugurated the presidential palace in Chisinau, which was renovated with funds from Ankara after the building was ransacked in 2009 by demonstrators protesting against what they said were rigged elections.
At a press conference, Dodon called Turkey an “extremely important partner” for Moldova and an "example…when it comes to defending national interests."
"The diplomatic relations of friendship between the two countries have existed for 26 years. More than 60 bilateral acts have been signed, and today is a historic day in strategic consolidation between our states,” Dodon said.
Erdogan said Ankara "unreservedly supports the territorial integrity of Moldova and calls for a peaceful settlement" of the conflict over the Moscow-backed separatist region of Transdniester, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990.
The two sides fought a brief war in 1992 that ended when the Russian military intervened on the side of Transdniester. Transdniester's independence is not recognized by any country.
On October 18, the Turkish leader was set to travel to Moldova’s autonomous Gagauzia region, which Dodon described as a “bridge of friendship between our countries.”
Gagauzia is populated mainly by ethnic Turkish Gagauz who speak Russian and have adopted Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Erdogan’s visit comes weeks after seven Turkish teachers were detained in Chisinau in a joint operation with the Turkish intelligence service and were expelled from Moldova on September 6 in a move criticized by human rights organizations.
Erdogan praised the action, saying it is "normal for friends to help each other when there are problems."
Meanwhile, dozens of people protested outside the Turkish Embassy in Chisinau, chanting, "Down with the dictatorship" and "Down with the mafia."
One placard read, “Danger Zone – in Moldova you risk being sold to Erdogan!”
Moldova's state security service, the SIS, said the seven teachers posed a "risk to national security," without providing details.
They were staff members of a Turkish high school in Chisinau’s Durlesti neighborhood that is linked to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016. Gulen rejects the claim.